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BMC Neurol. 2013 Nov 4;13:160. doi: 10.1186/1471-2377-13-160.

Diagnosis pathway for patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis: retrospective analysis of the US Medicare longitudinal claims database.

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  • 1Biogen Idec, 14 Cambridge Center, Cambridge, MA 02142, USA.



Initial symptoms of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) are often subtle and can delay diagnosis. This exploratory analysis was conducted to better characterize the pre-diagnosis pathway undertaken by patients with ALS in the US Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Medicare longitudinal claims database.


Quarterly Medicare claims data were analyzed to determine the pre-diagnosis pathway for an ALS patient cohort that included patients aged ≥ 65 years with ≥ 2 ALS claims (International Classification of Diseases, Ninth Revision, Clinical Modification code 335.20) between the first quarter of 2007 and the fourth quarter of 2009, and were enrolled in Medicare ≥ 2 years before the first ALS claim (diagnosis). A cohort of Medicare patients without claims for motor neuron diseases were identified for comparison. A subset of these patients with ≥ 3 years of claims data was included in a time to diagnosis analysis. Data extraction included the most common initial symptoms of ALS, the time from first ALS symptom to diagnosis, and the diagnostic procedures performed before the diagnosis of ALS.


A total of 399 patients met the inclusion criteria and were included in the ALS cohort; 272 patients were included in the time to diagnosis cohort. Before the quarter of diagnosis, symptoms that were more frequently seen in the ALS cohort than the general Medicare cohort included muscle weakness, lack of coordination and speech/swallowing difficulties. Limb-onset ALS (74%) was more common than bulbar-onset ALS (17%). Median time to diagnosis for limb- and bulbar-onset patients was 2.5 years and 1.25 years, respectively. The most common tests conducted before the quarter of diagnosis included sensory and motor nerve conduction tests, imaging studies, and electromyography; however, a substantial number of patients did not receive any nerve conduction testing. Motor nerve conduction testing in patients with bulbar-onset ALS had the largest impact on time to diagnosis.


This analysis describes a diagnostic delay for patients with ALS in the US Medicare population, similar to previous reports. The development of tools and ongoing education that can help to identify patients with ALS earlier in their disease course is needed.

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