Patient's Guide for Nerve & Muscle Disorders
Nerve and muscle disorders can be difficult to diagnose and treat—and for patients, it can be challenging to accept what may be a new way of life. That’s why patients come to Cedars-Sinai, where specialists from a variety of medical fields work together to diagnose, treat and provide the best quality of life for people with a wide range of nerve and muscle conditions. If you're a patient, here’s what you should know about your nerve and muscle condition.
Understanding Nerve & Muscle Conditions
What is a nerve and muscle condition?
Nerve and muscle disorders affect nerves that control your voluntary muscles, such as those in your arms and legs. Many nerve and muscle diseases are genetic, which means they run in families, and having certain gene mutations can increase your risk. Some can also be caused by an immune system problem. Treatments will depend on the specific disease and can include medications, physical therapy, occupational therapy and, when necessary, surgery. The goal is to improve symptoms, increase mobility and lengthen life.
Common Signs & Symptoms
Nerve and muscle disorders create muscle weakness and fatigue that can worsen over time. Some nerve and muscle conditions have symptoms that begin in infancy, while others may appear later in childhood or adulthood.
In general, symptoms may include:
- Muscle weakness
- Muscle loss or atrophy
- Gait/walking imbalance
- Droopy eyelids
- Double vision
- Trouble swallowing
- Trouble breathing
If you or a loved one has any of these symptoms, contact an expert to be evaluated.
If you're experiencing an emergency, call 911.
General Types Nerve & Muscle Conditions
There are some key types of nerve and muscle diseases. Some are progressive (such as ALS or muscular dystrophy), but many can be managed with medications (such as myasthenia gravis or Guillain-Barré Syndrome) which can help slow progression of the disease and improve quality of life.
- Muscular dystrophies and myopathies: A group of diseases in which muscle fibers don’t function properly and cause muscle weakness and degeneration of skeletal muscles.
- Motor neuron diseases: When nerve cells called motor neurons progressively lose function, causing muscles they control to weaken and stop working.
- Neuromuscular junction diseases: Diseases caused by the destruction, malfunction or absence of one or more key proteins that transmit signals between muscles and nerves.
- Peripheral nerve diseases: Diseases of the nerves that connect the brain and spinal cord to the rest of the body, causing impaired sensations, movement or other functions.
Find out more about the various types of conditions treated at Cedars-Sinai.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Your doctor will examine you, checking reflexes and muscle strength, and evaluating other symptoms. That may be followed by other diagnostic tests:
- Blood tests
- Nerve conduction studies (NCS) and Electromyography (EMG) to determine how well peripheral nerves are sending signals and communicating with muscles
- Muscle biopsy to examine a sample of muscle tissue under a microscope
- Skin biopsy to evaluate small nerve fibers in the skin
- Genetic testing to check for gene mutations
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan of your brain and spinal cord
- Lumbar puncture (spinal tap) to test brain and spinal cord fluid
The expertise of the neuromuscular physicians at Cedars-Sinai significantly improves the chances of a patient receiving an accurate diagnosis of a neuromuscular disease using technologies, which is the most important step in proper patient care.
Useful Tips to Help You Manage Your Nerve and Muscle Diagnosis
- Take time to adjust. Being diagnosed with a neuromuscular disorder can be overwhelming. Give yourself time to absorb information and understand what to expect. Let yourself feel—and work through—your emotions.
- Be hopeful. It may be hard at first, but make an effort to keep a positive outlook. Try not to let the illness define you.
- Seek early treatment. Many symptoms can be reduced with medical help.
- Take charge of your care. Your doctors and caregivers will provide a treatment plan, but it's up to you to understand and follow it.
- Engage family and friends. You’ll always have someone to talk to, and so will they.
- Join a support group. You can get emotional support and useful information from others facing nerve and muscle diseases. Family and friends may also benefit from joining a caregiver support group.
- Plan ahead. Advanced planning puts you in control of decisions about your life and care.
Here are some additional outside resources to help you better understand and find support for your nerve and muscle condition.
When clinical psychologist Marc Bennett learned he had ALS, he wanted a caring, compassionate doctor and a care team that offered personal contact to guide him through treatment. He found what he was looking for at the Cedars-Sinai ALS Program.
While patients fight amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's disease) under the care of a multidisciplinary team of Cedars-Sinai specialists, they also help our researchers find new ways to attack the disease.