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  • Determine if patient has actual neuromuscular weakness (suggesting CNS dysfunction) or non-neuromuscular weakness.

Clinical Features


Physical Exam

Focus on clarifying if patient has true loss of strength and determining distribution of deficits. Check for trauma, carotid bruits, thyroid enlargement, irregular rhythm, unequal pulses, rashes or ticks.

Location Weakness Bowel/Bladder Reflexes Sensory Pain
Upper motor neuron
Brain Variable Increased Diminished No
Brainstem "crossed" findings - ipsilateral cranial nerve weakness and contralateral hemiparesis
Cord Fixed level Yes Increased Diminished +/-
Lower motor neuron
Nerve Distal > proximal and ascends No Diminished Nl/parethesias No
Motor end plate Ocular, bulbar and descends, fatigable No Nl/diminished Nl/parethesias No
Muscle Proximal > distal No Nl/diminished Normal +/-

Differential Diagnosis




On all patients:


  • CK (myopathies)
  • Thyroid studies
  • ESR
  • CXR and UA (if infectious symptoms or elderly)
  • FVC (if evidence of respiratory compromise, i.e. Myasthenia, GBS)
  • CT head (if focal findings, altered mental status, history of cancer, history of any trauma in patient on anticoagulation)
  • MRI or CT with contrast (if a structural cord lesion is suspected)
  • LP (CNS infection, GBS)


Intubation Indications

  • Severe fatigue
  • Inability to protect airway
  • Rapidly increasing PaCO2
  • Hypoxemia despite O2
  • FVC <12 mL/kg
  • Neg Insp Force <20 cm H2O


  • Depends on process
    • If normal initial workup, make sure has no respiratory compromise

See Also

External Links