If You Notice This When Walking, It Could Be an Early Sign of ALS

This disease can turn fatal quickly after symptoms first develop.

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a nerve disease that affects thousands of people in the U.S. There is no definitive count of those with the condition in the country, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that as of 2014, nearly 16,000 people were suffering with the ailment. Most people find out they have ALS when they are between 55 to 75 years of age, and only live around three to five years after symptoms first develop. Given that there is such a large timeframe in which you might get diagnosed, and the fact that the survival rate is not promising, it's important to know the first symptoms to look out for. Health experts say there is one early sign of ALS that could be clear when you're walking. Read on to find out what to watch out for on your next stroll.

RELATED: If You Notice This While Walking, It Could Be the First Sign of a Stroke.

If you notice you have difficulty walking, it could be an early sign of ALS.

A senior couple walking together through a park

If you've been struggling with walking recently, you might want to get checked for ALS. Problems with walking occur because the ailment is a "motor neuron disease that causes gradual degeneration and eventually death of motor neurons," says Mark Davis, MD, a doctor working with Pacific Analytics. As the neurons deteriorate and die off, they are no longer sending messages to the muscles of the body, like those that help movement of the legs. According to Davis, some people will begin experiencing difficulty in moving their legs for walking and running early on in the course of their disease because their muscles have become stiffened or weakened as a result of the deteriorating neurons. You will also start "tripping or stumbling more often," he adds.

But you're unlikely to experience any pain because of this. So don't expect to feel your legs hurt. "The affected individuals may not feel pain in their muscles but their stiff and damaged limbs cause difficulty while walking or running and they begin to experience tripping and muscle cramping anytime," Davis adds.

You might see the earliest issues only affecting one leg.

woman touching her leg, calf pain, leg pain, sitting on couch
Image Point Fr / Shutterstock

Conor O'Flynn, DOMP, a medical expert and founder of O'Flynn Medical, says the trouble with leg movement early on in the course of an ALS case typically starts in just one leg. "Whilst running or walking, an individual may feel more unbalanced or clumsier and this is called limb onset," he explains. You might also experience "something as basic as a twitch of a muscle in the leg."

"Very early symptoms of ALS can be hard to spot as in most cases they are so subtle and minute that most people do not pay much attention," O'Flynn adds.

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But ALS doesn't just affect the legs.

men (50s and 60s) sitting outdoors, having conversation.

ALS won't only affect your leg movements, however. David Beatty, MRCGP, a long-term general practitioner and health expert for Strong Home Gym, says that the nerves that get impacted from the disease "also simulate the muscles which control speech, swallowing, and breathing." As a result, you might also experience issues with these bodilyy functions. This is likely to include both "difficulty swallowing and breathing, excessive saliva, slurred speech, loss of tongue muscle contour, voice hardness, and emotional liability," which is often characterized by excessive emotional reactions, says Victoria Glass, MD, a practicing doctor with a focus on medical research.

"Slurred speech, cramps, tightness and a difficulty swallowing or just chewing have all been reported as early symptoms but usually speaking the first tell-tale signs of ALS appear in the extremities, mainly the hands and arms," O'Flynn said.

This disease is more common in men.

 senior man using smart phone while sitting on sofa

Both men and women can experience ALS, but it appears to be "slightly more common in men than women," according to the CDC. The ALS Association says that the disease is on average, 20 percent more common in men than women. "However, with increasing age, the incidence of ALS is more equal between men and women," the organization notes. The CDC also says that recent studies have started to suggest that the overall difference in ALS incidence between men and women is decreasing over time.

There might not be much of a difference depending on what type of ALS you have as well. About 5 to 10 percent of ALS cases are inherited, which is referred to as familial ALS. "Familial ALS is found equally among men and women," the CDC says.

RELATED: If You Notice This While Walking, It Could Be an Early Sign of Dementia.

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