Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)

Head | Neurology | Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) (Disease)


Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also called Lou Gehrigs disease, is a fatal neurological disease that attacks rapidly, progressive and invariably the nerve cells (neurons) responsible for controlling voluntary muscles.

Symptoms usually do not develop until after age 50, but they can start in younger people. Symptoms include: difficulty breathing, difficulty swallowing, head drop due to weakness of the neck muscles, muscle cramps, muscle contractions called fasciculations, muscle weakness that slowly gets worse, paralysis, speech problems, such as a slow or abnormal speech pattern (slurring of words), voice changes, hoarseness and weight loss.

ALS does not affect the senses (sight, smell, taste, hearing, touch). It only rarely affects bladder or bowel function, or a persons ability to think or reason.

Causes and Risk factors

ALS is caused by a genetic defect. In the remaining cases, the cause is unknown. In ALS, nerve cells (neurons) waste away or die, and can no longer send messages to muscles. This eventually leads to muscle weakening, twhiching, and an inability to move the arms, legs, and body. The condition slowly gets worse. When the muscles in the chest area stop working, it becomes hard or impossible to breathe on ones own.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Tests that may be done include: blood tests to rule out other conditions, breathing test to see if lung muscles are affected, cervical spine CT or MRI to be sure there is no disease or injury to the neck, which can mimic ALS, electromyography to see which nerves do not work properly, genetic testing etc.

There is no known cure for ALS. The first drug treatment for the disease is a medicine that is called riluzole and slows the disease progression and prolongs life. ...

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