Doctors diagnosing neurodegenerative diseases

ALS vs Parkinson’s Disease – How Do These Conditions Differ?

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) and other neurodegenerative conditions, including Parkinson’s disease (PD), share some common traits.

ALS and Parkinson’s are both progressive conditions, which means they get worse over time. There’s also no cure for either these diseases as it stands at the moment, although there are treatment options available which can help manage some of the associated symptoms.

There are, however, major differences with the way these diseases affect the body and consequently their impact on the diagnosed individual.

Here we take a closer look at ALS vs Parkinson’s disease, the similarities they share as well as their key differences.

Incidence and Prevalence: ALS Compared with Parkinson’s

ALS incidence infographic
Facts and figures related to ALS incidence

All neurodegenerative diseases are conditions where there is an impact on the brain and/or the central nervous system.

According to statistics, ALS currently affects around 30,000 people in the USA, with around 6,000 new cases being identified each year.

Parkinson’s Disease affects around a million people in America and there are about 60,000 new cases annually.

Famous individuals affected by Parkinson’s include Michael J Fox and Scottish comedian Billy Connelly. In terms of ALS, the late Professor Stephen Hawking was one prominent public figure who had been diagnosed with a form of ALS. The late legendary US baseball player Lou Gehrig was also diagnosed with ALS and subsequently the condition has been commonly referred to as ‘Lou Gehrig’s disease‘ ever since.

Parkinson’s is perhaps a much more well known condition, due to its increased prevalence throughout the world, however ALS has received a lot more attention and awareness since the ‘Ice Bucket Challenge’ which went viral on social media during the summer of 2014.

Similarities Between ALS and Parkinson’s Disease

There are several similarities between these two diseases. Both affect neurons in the body and have a detrimental impact on the motor system, that is, how we move, speak, eat and breathe.

Individuals with ALS can often show Parkinson like symptoms, such as tremors, rigidity and slow movement. Beyond this, however, the ALS vs Parkinson’s disease differences tend to be much starker than the similarities.

Differences Between ALS and Parkinson’s disease

The more detail we go into with both diseases makes us realize how different they are, both in their progression and how they affect the diagnosed individual.

ALS vs Parkinson’s Disease: Symptoms

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis symptoms infographic
Symptoms associated with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis

ALS is a neurodegenerative disease that affects the neurons in the body. It usually starts as a localized issue in an area like the hands or legs. A person diagnosed with ALS will often feel weakness in a certain part of the body. The disease destroys the neurons and begins to spread throughout the whole body causing damage elsewhere.

Parkinson’s disease is also a neurodegenerative disorder but it actually affects a particular part of the brain rather than all neurons. It specifically attacks parts of the brain called the basal ganglia and the substantia nigra. Early symptoms may include difficulty sleeping and loss of sense of smell rather than loss of motor movement.

Prognosis of ALS vs Parkinson’s

ALS is considered as a fatal disease. The damage and death of neurons begins to spread throughout the body. In the later stages, nerve damage will affect areas like breathing and swallowing.

Parkinson’s disease in itself is not considered fatal but people do die from complications relating to the condition.

Onset of ALS and Parkinson’s

There are several different variants of ALS but it generally affects people between the age of 40 and 70. Juvenile onset ALS, however, can start in childhood or typically before the age of 25, although this form of ALS is particularly rare. The onset of ALS is estimated to be 20% more common in men compared with women and in 10% of cases there is likely to be a genetic component.

Parkinson’s disease is usually diagnosed in people over the age of 60, though a small percentage (4%) exhibit the symptoms before the age of 50.

Once again, men are more likely to develop Parkinson’s than women.

Treatment of ALS vs Parkinson’s Disease

There is currently no cure for ALS and much of the treatment is aimed at managing the symptoms and trying to slow down the progression of the disease. Ultimately the disease will be fatal and once bodily functions such as swallowing and breathing are affected, the prognosis is very poor.

Typically, around half of those diagnosed with ALS will die within the first three years following their diagnosis. Only 10% of those diagnosed will live beyond 10 years.

Treatment of Parkinson’s disease has received a lot more attention with its higher profile in the media. As with ALS, there is currently no cure but there are a wide range of different medications and treatments that are available.

This includes brain stimulation therapy which sends an electrical stimulus to the brain from a device embedded by the collarbone to help alleviate symptoms such as tremors.

Many Similiarties But More Key Differences

Parkinson’s is a neurodegenerative disease similar to ALS when you look at the superficial nature of both. Go beneath the surface, however, and there are significant differences in the symptoms, prognosis and available treatment options.