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Progressive muscular atrophy

PMA, Duchenne-Aran muscular atrophy

Overview

Progressive muscular atrophy (PMA), also known as Duchenne-Aran muscular atrophy and by various other names, is a rare subtype of motor neuron disease (MND) that affects only the lower motor neurons. PMA is thought to account for around 4% of all MND cases. This is in contrast to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), the most common form of MND, which affects both the upper and lower motor neurones, or primary lateral sclerosis, another rare MND variant, which affects only the upper motor neurons. The distinction is important because PMA is associated with a better prognosis than classic ALS.

Symptoms - Progressive muscular atrophy

As a result of lower motor neurone degeneration, the symptoms of PMA include:

  • atrophy
  • fasciculations
  • muscle weakness

Some patients have symptoms restricted only to the arms or legs (or in some cases just one of either). These cases are referred to as "Flail Arm" (FA) or "Flail Leg" (FL) and are associated with a better prognosis.

Causes - Progressive muscular atrophy

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Prevention - Progressive muscular atrophy

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Diagnosis - Progressive muscular atrophy

PMA is a diagnosis of exclusion, there is no specific test which can conclusively establish whether a patient has the condition. Instead, a number of other possibilities have to be ruled out, such as multifocal motor neuropathy or spinal muscular atrophy. Tests used in the diagnostic process include MRI, clinical examination, and EMG. EMG tests in patients who do have PMA usually show denervation (neurone death) in most affected body parts, and in some unaffected parts too.

It typically takes longer to be diagnosed with PMA than ALS, an average of 20 months for PMA vs 15 months in ALS/MND.

Prognosis - Progressive muscular atrophy

The importance of correctly recognizing progressive muscular atrophy as opposed to ALS is important for several reasons.

  • 1) the prognosis is a little better. A recent study found the 5-year survival rate in PMA to be 33% (vs 20% in ALS) and the 10-year survival rate to be 12% (vs 6% in ALS).
  • 2) Patients with PMA do not suffer from the cognitive change identified in certain groups of patients with MND.
  • 3) Because PMA patients do not have UMN signs, they usually do not meet the "World Federation of Neurology El Escorial Research Criteria" for “Definite” or “Probable” ALS and so are ineligible to participate in the majority of clinical research trials such as drugs trials or brain scans.
  • 4) Because of its rarity (even compared to ALS) and confusion about the condition, some insurance policies or local healthcare policies may not recognize PMA as being the life-changing illness that it is. In cases where being classified as being PMA rather than ALS is likely to restrict access to services, it may be preferable to be diagnosed as "slowly progressive ALS" or "lower motor neuron predominant" ALS.

An initial diagnosis of PMA could turn out to be slowly progressive ALS many years later, sometimes even decades after the initial diagnosis. The occurrence of upper motor neurone symptoms such as brisk reflexes, spasticity, or a Babinski sign would indicate a progression to ALS; the correct diagnosis is also occasionally made on autopsy.

Treatment - Progressive muscular atrophy

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Resources - Progressive muscular atrophy

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