ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, is a neurological disorder that many people refer to as Lou Gehrig's disease. This is a progressive disease in which the nerves that control the voluntary movements in the body deteriorate. As the nerve cells degenerate, it leads to paralysis and then death after a few years. The motor nerve cells that are affected in this disorder control movements in the hands and legs, eliminates the ability to swallow food, and eventually can cause an individual to stop breathing. The disorder is seen to be more common among men than in women.
In several cases, genes seem to play an important role in the disease, because it can be inherited. Studies also show that exposure to certain chemicals, fertilizers, and other environmental factors may trigger this disorder. Trauma and certain viral infections also increase the risk of getting this disease. Some theories suggest that over excitation of the nerve cells by the chemicals, like neurotransmitters, trigger this disorder.
The initial symptoms of the disease are often ignored or overlooked. Some of the initial symptoms include twitching and stiffness in the muscles.
Common symptoms of ALS include:
- Weakness in the hands and legs
- Problems with walking and balancing
- Difficulty in swallowing
- Slurred speech
The disease progresses gradually and spreads to different parts of the body.
As ALS progresses, the symptoms include:
- Muscle cramps and weakness
- Exaggerated reflex
- Difficulty in chewing
- Breathing troubles
The rate of disease progression differs from one individual to another. Some may complain of problems with memory. They also have an increased risk of pneumonia as the disease progresses.
The disease does not have a complete cure. Treatments are available to alleviate the symptoms. Drugs are available to prevent damage caused by the over excitement of neurons by neurotransmitters. Physical therapy helps to improve muscle strength and mobility. Doctors may prescribe antidepressants for those who have depression as one of the symptoms. Medications are also available to control symptoms like fatigue, muscle cramps, stiffness of muscles, sleep troubles, and constipation.