Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), is a progressive, neurological disease that affects the nerves in your brain and spinal cord that controls your muscle movement. It is also called Lou Gehrig’s disease, named after a famous baseball player who suffered from the same condition.
ALS is a progressive disease which means it gets worse over time. As your muscles get weaker, walking, talking, eating, and even breathing get harder too. This disease affects your motor neurons, which control all your voluntary movements. When the motor neurons in your brain and spinal cord die, they cannot send messages and signals to your muscle. And when the muscles don’t get signals, they become very weak. Over time, the muscles will lose their ability to work, and you can’t control their movement anymore.
ALS does not affect nonmotor neurons, such as sensory neurons that bring information from the sense organs to the brain. A person’s sensory function or mental faculties remain healthy even with ALS.
The signs and symptoms of ALS vary greatly from person to person. Although in the initial stages of these conditions, the symptoms are barely noticeable. The first indication might be the twitching in the arms as it makes it difficult to perform simple tasks like buttoning a shirt, picking up little things, or writing, and the awkwardness on the legs when walking or running and the unusual tripping and stumbling. Here are some of the early signs of ALS:
- Weakness in muscles of the hands, arms, and legs, including the tongue
- Stiffness of the muscle
- Slurred speech
- Nasal voice
- Difficulty in swallowing or chewing
In an advanced stage, ALS causes shortness of breath making it hard to breathe, which eventually leads to respiratory failure.
There are multiple factors attributed to the death of the motor neurons that causes ALS. Though its real cause is not yet fully understood, and its risk factors have not been identified, ongoing research explores the role of genetics and environmental factors in ALS.
Presently, there is no known cure or treatment that stops and reverses the progression of ALS. However, there are FDA-approved drugs that can slow its progression. There are also several clinical trials conducted to understand and fight this disease. And while the research continues to find the most effective cure for ALS, medical teams are trying to assist family members and patients in adjusting and living with the challenges this disease brings.
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