What is amyotrophic lateral sclerosis?

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also called Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a relentlessly progressive, 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. At age 65 or younger males predominate – over 65 both sexes are equally affected. (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.


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 contr... Read more about amyotrophic lateral sclerosissymptoms


What causes ALS?

Although approximately one-tenth of all amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) cases are understood to be genetic in origin (run in families), it remains unclear what causes the majority of ALS cases. Currently, researchers are investigating factors that may be related to the development of ALS, including abnormally high levels of glutamate (chemical that passes messages between nerves), and envir... Read more about amyotrophic lateral sclerosiscauses


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 ... Read more about amyotrophic lateral sclerosistreatments

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Aug 9, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 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