ALS, also known as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, is one of the motor neuron-related diseases. The early symptoms of ALS are not easily visible, and therefore, quite often the disease goes unnoticed.
ALS is a fast progressing disease and also an invariably mortal disease attacking the neurons. Neurons are important ‘messengers’ of the human body system, as they control the movement of the voluntary muscles of our body. This disease is also characterized by the death of motor neurons. Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis is named as the Lou Gehrig’s Disease after the baseball icon Lou Gehrig in the continent of North America. Another victim of ALS is a popular name that we all know – the great and world-renowned physicist Stephen Hawking. At present, around 20,000 Americans are believed to be suffering from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. This disease is not age specific, as it is found to be affecting people of all age groups, but most of the victims of this disease are above the age of 40.
Causes of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis
Though the exact causes of this disease are not known for sure, some probable ones are listed below:
- The most common cause of ALS is the genetic disorder observed in some human beings.
- The mutation of a gene called the SOD1 is said to be a cause of ALS in about 1/5 of its patients.
- Another probable cause of the occurrence of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is the exposure to high amounts of glutamate. The neurotransmitter glutamate gets accumulated in the spinal fluid of the ALS victims. But why this accumulation take place and how it contribute to ALS still remains a mystery to experts.
- Harmful foreign particles that enter the body through the air or water are said to be causing ALS. However, rarely do such cases occur.
Early Symptoms of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis
One cannot notice the early symptoms of ALS easily, and therefore, people tend to overlook this disease. ALS does not show the same symptom(s) in every person. Different people may experience different symptoms. For example, as an early symptom of ALS, one person might experience imbalance while tripping, while another might fall short of breath. It therefore becomes difficult to tell whether a person is actually suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
|Dysphagia||One of the most commonly observed early symptoms of ALS is dysphagia in children as well as adults, which is referred to as difficulty in swallowing food or liquid foodstuffs.|
|Weakness in Muscles||More than 60% patients who unknowingly suffer from ALS, show this symptom. Muscle weakness is characterized by problems such as fatigue in the muscles of the arms and legs, muscle cramps, muscle pain, not being able to lift things or dropping them. This mainly happens because the sufferer gradually loses control over the voluntary movements of his body. One might also experience difficulty in performing day-to-day activities such as dressing up, washing clothes, etc.|
|Slurred Speech||Loss over voluntary movements results in difficulty in speaking and often the speech starts becoming slurred.|
|Losing Control over Laughing and Crying||As an early symptom of ALS, it so happens that the person loses control over his muscle movements, and therefore if he starts laughing over something, he keeps on laughing for a long time. He is unable to control his laughter as a result of the loss of control over the facial muscles. Same is the case with crying.|
|Muscle Cramps||Muscle cramps and even twitching of the muscles is experienced. This happens mostly to the muscles of the hands and feet.|
|Loss of Balance||There is the tendency to lose some sense of balance, and tripping and falling is a common occurrence.|
|Overall Weakness and Fatigue||On the whole, an individual always experiences weakness and a sense of fatigue.|
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis still remains a mysterious disease for the medical fraternity. Neither the exact causes for the damage of motor neurons are known, nor is there any specific treatment found that can completely cure this disease. However, there are some treatments and therapies that help in decreasing the intensity of the early symptoms of ALS like muscle fatigue and swallowing problems. But experts have not quit as yet! There is still a ray of hope as research is going on to identify the exact cause(s) as well as to discover a definite treatment for the thousands of patients around the world who are suffering from ALS.