ALS

1 What is Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis?

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or Lou Gehrig's disease is a neurodegenerative disease characterized by muscle weakness.

Progression of the disease is rapid and affects the brain and spinal cord to control voluntary muscles.

This will gradually affect physical functions. When the nerves controlling breathing and vital organs are affected, it may lead to death.

The cause of the disease is not known yet. Early symptoms of the disease are very subtle.

Treatment focuses mainly on reducing damage to motor neurons that control the muscles.

There is no complete cure for the disease, but medications are available to alleviate symptoms and to improve the quality of living.

2 Symptoms

Early symptoms of Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis are very subtle and is often overlooked.

Some of the common symptoms are:

  • Twitching of muscles in the arms and shoulders
  • Cramping and stiffness of muscles
  • Slurred speech
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Muscle weakness in the legs and feet
  • Clumsiness
  • Difficulty holding head up
  • Difficulty maintaining good posture
  • Emotional outbursts
  • Fatigue
  • Saliva and mucus problems

The symptoms are usually noticed in the hands and legs and these may gradually spread to other parts of the body.

Initially, the patient may feel awkwardness in running and walking. They often stumble or trip while walking.

As the disease progresses, the muscles become weaker.

Weakness of voluntary muscles affect swallowing, chewing, speaking, and even breathing.

What is ALS?
Article What Is ALS?

3 Causes

The actual cause of Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is not known.

Inheritance

The degeneration of nerve cells that control muscles result in characteristic features of the disease. About 5-10% of the cases are inherited.

Some of the probable causes of ALS include gene mutation, an imbalance of chemicals, and autoimmune responses.

Some forms of ALS are associated with certain gene mutations.

When compared to healthy people, ALS patients have higher levels of the neurotransmitter glutamate.

Higher levels of glutamate in serum and spinal fluid result in the degeneration of neurons.

Other agents

In some cases, an abnormal immune system attacks the body’s own neurons and this is implied in the development of ALS.

Several environmental agents like toxins and infectious agents are also suggested causative factors of this degenerative disease.

The accumulation of abnormal proteins in the nerve cells lead to death of neurons and ALS.

ALS is more commonly found in the age group of 40-60 years. Heredity is yet another risk factor for this disorder.

Smoking, lead exposure and exposure to certain chemicals, viral infections, intense physical exertion, and trauma are known to also increase the chance of developing this disease.

4 Making a Diagnosis

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis does not have a definitive diagnosis test. Symptoms of ALS resemble that of many other neurological diseases.

However, tests are recommended to rule out the chances of other disorders that result in similar symptoms.

  • An electromyogram helps to assess the electrical activity in the muscles. This aids to diagnose ALS and to rule out other conditions that result in muscular weakness.
  • A nerve conduction study is used to assess the activity of neurons in the body. This helps to differentiate muscle diseases from neurodegenerative diseases.
  • An MRI helps to visualize the brain and spinal cord and to check for tumors or other disorders that result in symptoms.
  • Blood tests are also used to rule out chances of other conditions.
  • A lumbar puncture or spinal tap is a procedure in which the spinal fluid is removed for analysis.
  • A muscle biopsy helps to differentiate muscle diseases from ALS.

5 Treatment

There is no complete cure for Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and all treatments focus mainly on alleviating the symptoms and to reduce the progression of the disease.

An integrated team of doctors are involved in chalking out and implementing a treatment plan for ALS.

Medication

Riluzole is recommended for the treatment of ALS. This drug helps to reduce levels of glutamate in the blood and spinal fluid, reducing the progression of disease.

Other medications help to alleviate specific symptoms of the disease like spasticity, muscle cramps, sleep problems, pain, salivation, and emotional outbursts.

As the disease progresses, the muscles may gradually become progressively weaker. This results in difficulty breathing.

Devices

Breathing devices are used to assist in breathing and mechanical ventilation is suggested when breathing difficulty is severe.

Difficulty walking and other movements is treated with physical therapy. Braces and other equipment help in physical movements.

Therapy

Occupational therapy is recommended to improve the movement of the arms and hands.

A speech therapist is involved in bringing better clarity to speech.

They also help the patient with other modes of communication like an alphabet board or a tablet.

A nutritional therapist helps in the structure of a better diet.

6 Alternative and Homeopathic Remedies

To ease your Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis symptoms there are several alternative and homeopathic remedies.

Natural supplements are used to support the overall health of the patient.

Vitamin supplements like vitamin C, B complex, and Vitamin E are used to support the muscle and nerve functions of the body.

Acupuncture is another method used to improve physiological functions.

Herbal therapies are suggested to support and improve marrow and spinal cord.

Cayenne, Ginger, Cinnamon, Periwinkle, Butcher's Broom, Manjistha, Chaparral, Goldenseal Root, and Comfrey Root are the most commonherbal remedies suggested to alleviate the symptoms.

7 Lifestyle and Coping

The support of family and friends will help cope with the physical inabilities caused by Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

Joining a support group helps to share concerns and to get more information regarding the disease.

Be hopeful and move ahead with positive thoughts.

8 Risks and Complications

As the disease progresses, Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis results in several complications like breathing difficulties, speech problems, eating problems and dementia.

Some people may need breathing devices to support breathing because respiratory failure may result in death.

Muscle weakness affects the ability to swallow food, resulting in malnutrition and dehydration.

The probability of food getting into the lungs increases and this may also lead to pneumonia.

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