Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis: Symptoms, Treatment

Overview

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a progressive and fatal disease of the nervous system. ALS affects both upper motor neurons, found in the motor cortex of the brain, and lower motor neurons, found in the brain stem and spinal cord. This disease destroys a person’s nerve cells and causes generalized weakness leading to paralysis and death.

Estimates indicate that four to six people per 100,000 are living with ALS at any given time. Additionally, an estimated 6000 people in the United States are diagnosed with ALS each year, with a prevalence of nearly 20,000.

Causes

Researchers still don’t know exactly what causes motor neurons to die with ALS. Several possible causes that researchers are studying include:

  • Gene mutation

Various genetic mutations can lead to inherited ALS. C9orf72 gene, SOD1 gene, TARDBP and FUS gene mutations account for a relatively large proportion of familial ALS

  • Chemical imbalance

Excessively high levels of glutamate will poison some nerve cells in the spinal fluid.

  • Disorganized immune response

In an abnormal state, a person’s immune system might attack and kill his or her body’s normal cells.

  • Protein mishandling

Mishandled proteins within the nerve cells may lead to a gradual accumulation of abnormal forms of these proteins in the cells.

Symptoms

Early signs and symptoms of ALS include:

  • Difficulty walking or doing your normal daily activities
  • Difficulty expressing emotions and doing cognitive activities
  • Tripping and falling
  • Weakness in your leg, feet or ankles
  • Hand weakness, clumsiness or stiffness
  • Slurred speech or trouble swallowing
  • hoarseness
  • Poor speech volume
  • Muscle cramps and twitching
  • Difficulty holding your head up or keeping good posture

As the disease advances, you will experience the flowing symptoms:

  • Progressive weakening of muscles
  • Paralysis of the whole body
  • difficulty in speaking, swallowing, and eventually, breathing.

Diagnosis

It can be a challenge to diagnose Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis early, because

it shares some similar symptoms with many other neurological diseases. Your doctor will diagnose ALS by tracking the progression of the symptoms and conducting several clinical tests, including:

  • Electromyogram (EMG)
  • Nerve conduction study
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Blood and urine tests
  • Spinal tap (lumbar puncture)
  • Muscle biopsy

Treatment

There doesn’t exist any treatment to cure amyotrophic lateral sclerosis permanently until now. However, the following treatments may have a positive effect, such as slowing the progression of symptoms, preventing complications and improving the quality of your life.

Medications

Two medications have been proven helpful in managing the symptoms of ALS:

Your doctor may also prescribe medications to provide relief from other symptoms, including:

  • Muscle cramps and spasms
  • Spasticity
  • Constipation
  • Fatigue
  • Excessive salivation
  • Excessive phlegm
  • Pain
  • Depression
  • Sleep problems
  • Uncontrolled outbursts of laughing or crying

Therapies

Some of the useful therapies include:

  • Breathing care
  • Physical therapy and exercise
  • Occupational therapy
  • Speech therapy
  • Nutritional support
  • Psychological and social support.
  • Hot tub and whirlpool baths
  • Dietary counseling


Latest

Jul 29,2019

Researchers from Stanford University Medical Center have identified a key gene behind Lou Gehrig’s disease. They’ve also shown how inhibiting the gene’s function curbs production of the harmful protein.

The gene they’ve identified is RPS25, codes for a piece of cellular machinery necessary for creating the protein-based gunk that amasses in some forms of ALS and damages healthy neurons.

The researchers also tested and found that inhibiting RPS25 helped tamp down the levels of bad protein for two other neurodegenerative diseases: Huntington’s disease and spinocerebellar ataxia.

As the researcher said, it’s a very early stage.

The paper was published in Nature Neuroscience.

Keywords: amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, ALS.

* The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.