The report was published online July 21 in JAMA Neurology.
Dr. Ronald Kanner is chair of neurology at North Shore University Hospital and Long Island Jewish Medical Center in Manhasset, N.Y. He said the course of the disease is extremely variable. "Some patients succumb within a year and others progress very slowly, with 5 percent still alive after 20 years," Kanner said.
This great variability makes it difficult to judge the effectiveness of treatments aimed at slowing progression, he said. "The current study identified easily measurable substances in the blood that can give a clue to the severity of the disease and the impact of treatment," he added.
Kanner added: "ALS is a devastating disease that affects the nerve cells that control muscles. It causes progressive weakness and wasting of muscles and eventually leads to the inability to swallow or breathe."
For the study, Chio and colleagues looked at blood levels of albumin, creatinine, white blood cells, sugar, cholesterol and thyroid hormones in more than 600 people with ALS. They said they later validated their findings by duplicating the study in an additional 122 people with ALS.
Only levels of albumin and creatinine were related to survival in both men and women, according to the study findings. Lower levels of these substances were related to worse survival and muscle function.
Lower creatinine was related to a loss of muscle mass. And, lower levels of albumin were linked to increased inflammation, the investigators found.
The researchers suggest that longer-term studies following the levels of creatinine and albumin throughout the course of the disease would help better define their relationship to ALS symptoms and the progression of the disease.
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