Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a rare neurological disease that affects the motor neuron nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that are responsible for voluntary muscle control.
This rapidly progressing neurodegenerative disease causes oxidative damage to these neurons, which then leads to muscular atrophy and neuronal cell death.
Although not officially categorized, ALS is typically grouped into three stages; early, middle and late. Each stage brings its own set of symptoms, most of which worsen over time and eventually require constant care and medical assistance.
ALS doesn’t affect your ability to taste, touch, or smell, or hear. However once noticeable symptoms appear most patients live between 2-5 years, although approx. 10 percent of people with the condition survive for a decade or more.
Roughly two thirds of patients with typical ALS have a spinal form of the disease, known as limb onset. These patients present with symptoms related to specific muscle weakness and atrophy, which often starts in either in the upper and lower limbs.
In these cases spasticity may develop rapidly in the weakened atrophic limbs, in turn affecting ones gait and dexterity.
Patients who develop bulbar onset ALS, a form of ALS that mainly affects the bulbar region of the brainstem, usually present with dysphagia issues swallowing solids or liquids, and/or dysarthria problems with speaking. Wakened limb symptoms are also known to develop almost with bulbar symptoms, and in the majority of cases occur within 1-2 years.
Most ALS treatments are currently supportive and multidisciplinary. However there are several medications shown to increase the life span of ALS patients. Non-invasive ventilation can also help prolong survival and improve a patient’s quality of life. So whilst there is no cure to reverse damage to motor neurons or cure ALS, modern treatments can make living with the disease easier.
The best health care is best provided by a team of multidisciplinary professionals who work together to devise the best course of action for a patient’s specific treatment regime. This team may include medical practitioners such as respiratory therapists; nutritionist’s physicians; physical, occupational, speech therapists; social workers; clinical psychologists; pharmacists; and homecare/hospice nurses.
When it comes to medications for ALS, doctors can use one of two approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). These are typically employed as a support plan for other, more natural ALS treatments:
There are several new approaches being developed to help cure/treat ALS. These involve gene therapy approaches, testing drug-like compounds, and antibodies, as well as cell-based therapies in a range of these disease models. Furthermore, there are number of experimentory treatments being trialed in people with ALS.
In each case an individualized treatment plan and special equipment is often provide to assist patients in keeping as mobile, comfortable, and as self-dependent as possible.
In the U.S. it is reported that fewer than 50,000 people have ALS, and an estimated 200,000 people worldwide are thought to suffer from the disease.
Yes, ALS is the same rare condition also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Following diagnosis approx. 50% of patients with ALS live around 3 years, 25% live 5 years or more, and 10% live more than 10 years.
There is currently no cure for ALS, however there are several treatments, natural and manmade, that can improve quality of life and even increase life expectancy.
Since diet attributes greatly to quality of life, it is important to have professional nutritionists teach, and/or prepare small meals throughout the day that are both easy to eat and provide enough fiber, calories, and fluid.
Suction devices may also be employed in situations where excess fluids or saliva must be removed to prevent choking.
Eventually, when patients can no longer eat without assistance, doctors may advise inserting a feeding tube, which not only ensure the patients can consume the correct amount of nourishment, it also reduces the risk of choking and pneumonia that can result from inhaling liquids into your lungs.
Most treatment plan for ALS also includes some form of rehabilitation and physical therapy with the aim of giving patients the most range of motion possible. This treatment is different for every patient, and will be devised on a case-by-case basis dependent on the patients needs.
A speech therapist may also be called upon to assist with any speech impediments that may develop.
In more severe cases, computer-based speech synthesizers use eye-tracking technology and other tech devices can help patients develop ways to respond, much like the famous scientist Stephen Hawkins.
And whilst it may seem like sci-fi tech from the future, brain-computer interfaces (BCI) are being developed that will allow ALS suffers to communicate and control equipment using only their brain activity.
Unfortunately, the most damaging outcome to the health of ALS suffers becomes the inability to breath properly. As the repertory muscles start to weaken, the lungs fail to intake enough oxygen, and as a result, this is often the cause of death in those with severe ALS.
For this reason breathing support is often employed in the later years as breathing becomes more labored, and the shortness of breath drastically affects ones physical abilities.