ALS stands for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. It is a progressive neurodegenerative disease. This write-up provides some facts about this medical condition.
Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) is a neurodegenerative disease that affects the motor neurons present in the brain and the spinal cord. It is also called Lou Gehrig’s disease, as the famous American baseball player named Lou Gehrig was diagnosed with this degenerative disease. This fatal disease is associated with the obstruction of the communication link between the nerves and the voluntary muscles.
ALS is associated with obstruction and eventual destruction of the communication link between the nerves and voluntary muscles. The exact cause of this condition is not yet known. It is believed that genetic factors might have a role to play. It is believed that this condition could be caused due to increased levels of glutamate, which is a chemical that makes the transmission or communication of messages between the neurons possible. It is believed that the communication between the voluntary muscles and the upper motor neurons present in the brain and the lower motor neurons present in the spinal cord could be destroyed due to an autoimmune response. When the communication link between them is destroyed, the brain is unable to control the functions of these voluntary muscles. Initially, the person experiences muscle weakness and stiffness, but as the disease progresses, it causes wasting of the muscles.
The symptoms are not very conspicuous at the onset of the disease, and that makes early diagnosis difficult. The symptoms can vary from person to person, depending on the progression of the disease.
The early symptoms include:
☞ Muscle twitching
☞ Muscle atrophy
As the brain loses the ability to communicate with the voluntary muscles, other symptoms might appear. These include:
☞ Rigid muscles
☞ Muscle weakness
☞ Stiffness in arms and legs
☞ Difficulty in walking (if leg muscles get affected)
☞ Difficulty in lifting or holding objects (if muscles of the hands get affected)
As the disease progresses, the muscles of the face and torso could also get adversely affected. When that happens, the person might experience the following symptoms:
☞ Difficulty in swallowing
☞ Difficulty in chewing
☞ Speech problems
Mechanical ventilation might be required, when the muscles associated with breathing get affected.
Tests such as electromyography and nerve condition velocity are conducted for diagnosing this condition. Nerve conduction velocity reveals the speed at which nerves transmit information to the muscles and electromyography indicates the nerve impulses within the muscles. Weak responses might be indicative of ALS.
☞ Around 3,600 cases are reported in the US annually.
☞ People with a family history of ALS are vulnerable. About 5-10% of the affected people are the ones who have inherited this condition.
☞ Usually, the symptoms appear in people who are in the age group of 40-70 years, but even children could get affected by this medical condition.
☞ A tiny fraction, 0.03%, of those diagnosed with ALS are younger than 38 years or older than 92 years at the time of diagnosis.
☞ About 5% of the affected people are younger than 47 years or older than 83 years at the time of diagnosis.
☞ More than 50% of the patients die within 5 years of diagnosis, but some might live for 10 years after being diagnosed with ALS.
☞ Though ALS is associated with degeneration of the nerve cells and eventual wasting and paralysis of voluntary muscles, the person’s intellect and other senses are generally not affected.
If diagnosed in the early stages, the progression of this disease can be slowed down with the help of drug therapy. Rilutek, which is a drug that is usually recommended for people affected by this disease, can help in reducing the intensity of symptoms to some extent.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.