Commencing with the work carried out during the epidemiological survey of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis in the period 1980–1992 and the pathology follow-up, we carried out a perspective incidence, prevalence and mortality survey of X-linked bulbar and spinal muscular atrophy (X-BSMA) in the province of Reggio Emilia in Northern Italy. Based on 11 patients (eight familial and three sporadic cases), the mean incidence per year for the period 1980 through 1997, as evaluated at the onset of symptoms, was 0.09 cases/100,000 for the total population and 0.19 cases/100,000 for the male population. On December 31, 1997, the prevalence rate was 1.6/100,000 for the total population and 3.3/100,000 for the male population. In the 18-year period of 1980–1997, the average yearly mortality rate was: 0.03 cases/100,000 per year for the total population and 0.06 cases/100,000 for the male population. The average age at onset was 44.8 ± 10.1, and the average survival period was 27.3 ± 2.3 years. The average age of the prevalence day was 58.9 ± 14.9, and the average age at death was 71.3 ± 4.7 years. Whereas the incidence rate of X-BSMA in the province of Reggio Emilia is 16 times lower that of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), the incidence rate of progressive bulbar palsy in the male population is only slightly higher than X-BSMA; and the prevalence rate of ALS for males is two times the prevalence rate for X-BSMA, with overlapping of confidence intervals. X-BSMA is a rare disease, which is probably under-diagnosed, but due to the long survival period of this disease its frequency is not negligible. Because of the presence of sporadic cases or non-evident familial cases, it is appropriate to consider this diagnostic possibility in making a diagnosis of ALS in patients in whom lower motor neuron dysfunction or bulbar onset predominates.
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