What does the ALSFRS-R really measure? A longitudinal and survival analysis of functional dimension subscores in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis

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Abstract

Introduction

ALS functional rating scale (revised) (ALSFRS-R) is the most widely used functional rating system in patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). However, heterogeneity in ALSFRS-R progression renders analysis challenging. We have explored the characteristics of total ALSFRS-R, and ALSFRS-R subscores in longitudinal and survival models, to determine whether subscore analysis enhances the precision of the instrument.

Methods

All cases with ALSFRS-R scores on the Irish ALS register were included. ALSFRS-R subscores were defined for bulbar, motor and respiratory domains. Longitudinal models were used to visualise fitted total ALSFRS-R and ALSFRS-R subscore progression. In addition, the prognostic value of convenience and computed ALSFRS-R slope and subscore slopes were compared.

Results

407 incident cases were identified with a complete ALSFRS-R measure. 233 (57%) patients were male, and 125 (31%) had bulbar-onset disease. ALSFRS-R bulbar and motor subscore slopes provided a better fit in prognostic models when combined over the total ALSFRS-R slope. Longitudinal analysis revealed that the ALSFRS-R motor subscore deteriorated earlier in spinal-onset disease over bulbar-onset disease, while in bulbar-onset disease the ALSFRS-R bulbar subscore deteriorated earlier and faster than in spinal-onset disease.

Discussion

Our analysis builds on previous knowledge of ALSFRS-R subscores. Decline in ALSFRS-R motor subscores in patients with spinal-onset disease, and decline in ALSFRS-R bulbar subscores in patients with bulbar-onset disease, may predate reported disease onset dates. Respiratory subscores were not prognostically informative after adjustment for bulbar and motor subscores. These results provide robust evidence that the ALSFRS-R should not be reported as a single combined score, but rather as domain specific subscores.

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