What is amyotrophic lateral sclerosis?

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also called Lou Gehrig’s disease, is an incurable disease of the nerve cells that control voluntary muscle movement. ALS causes muscle weakness and leads to severe disability. In a small percentage of cases, the disease is inherited, but in most cases, the cause of the disease is not known. About five out of every 100,000 people will develop ALS, usually after age 50 (Source: PubMed).

Early stages of ALS are usually marked by twitching, cramping, stiffness, weakness, or difficulty chewing. As the disease progresses, muscle control decreases, leading to muscle contractions, drooling, dropping head, increased weakness, difficulty performing daily activities, and difficulty breathing. Late stages of the disease are marked by complete paralysis; however mental capacity remains normal. ALS does not affect your ability to feel, see or sense.

The drug riluzole is used to slow the progression of the disease, and anti-epileptic drugs can help control muscle spasms. Physical therapy can help prolong your ability to perform daily activities. In addition, social workers, support groups and counseling, and home hospice care can support you and your family as you deal with the serious impacts of the disease.

Seek immediate medical care (call 911) for serious symptoms of ALS, such as difficulty breathing or choking.

Seek prompt medical care if you experience any loss of muscle function that may be related to ALS or if you have a family history of ALS, as early diagnosis is important for slowing the progression of the disease. It is also important to seek medical care if you have been diagnosed with ALS and your symptoms worsen or you experience new symptoms.

SYMPTOMS

What are the symptoms of ALS?

Symptoms of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) are related to problems with communication between your nerves and muscles. ALS starts out with mild symptoms of muscle weakness, stiffness, difficulty chewing, or voice changes. As the disease progresses over the course of three to five years, worse symptoms develop, including difficulty moving, drooling, head drop, severe muscle cramps and contractions, and increased weakness. The late stages of ALS are marked by paralysis and breathing difficulties. While the ability to move is impaired, the ability to reason and the senses (sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell) remain normal.... Read more about amyotrophic lateral sclerosissymptoms

CAUSES

What causes ALS?

It is also possible that the body’s own immune response may play a role in the development of ALS. Some researchers believe that the immune system may attack the nerves that control muscles, leading to a loss of muscle control. Currently, not enough evidence is available to indicate clearly the cause of non-hereditary ALS.... Read more about amyotrophic lateral sclerosiscauses

TREATMENTS

How is ALS treated?

While there is no cure for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), drug treatment can help reduce the severity of symptoms. One drug, riluzole (Rilutek), may help slow damage to the nerves that control muscles. Other treatments and medical support, such as physical therapy, speech therapy, assisted breathing apparatuses, and home hospice care, are aimed at helping the patient and family cope with the patient's progressive lack of muscle control.... Read more about amyotrophic lateral sclerosistreatments

Medical Reviewer: All content has been reviewed by board-certified physicians under the direction of Rich Klasco, M.D., FACEP. Last Annual Review Date: May 2, 2011 Copyright: © Copyright 2011 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Brain and Nerves