Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
Table of Content:
What is amyotrophic lateral sclerosis?
“Amyotrophic’ means “without nourishment to the muscles”, and comes from Greek roots. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease after the baseball player who was affected by it, is a progressive neurological disorder characterised by loss of control of skeletal muscles of the body. It affects the nerve cells of the brain and the spinal cord. ALS often shows symptoms like twitching or slurred speech in the beginning, but as the muscles get weaker, it becomes increasingly harder to walk, talk, or breathe. It has no cure yet and is a fatal condition.
Who gets amyotrophic lateral sclerosis?
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS is a common neuromuscular condition and can affect people of all races and ethnic backgrounds. Few potential risk factors have been identified. People in the age-group of fifty five to seventy-five years, those of Caucasian and non-Hispanic origin, and men more than women are more likely to get amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
About 5-10% of the cases of ALS have shown a familial etiology, meaning it can be inherited from one of the parents. Over a dozen genes have been identified that can cause amyotrophic lateral sclerosis in individuals.
What causes amyotrophic lateral sclerosis?
It is still not known what causes the motor neurons to die in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. A protein called SOD1 is thought to be toxic to the neurons. Mutations in the gene that makes this protein could be one of the causative factors. Other such genes are being looked into as well. Environmental causes such as exposure to certain chemicals have also been considered as etiological factors. Other areas of research to identify potential causes of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis include:
What are the symptoms of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis?
At the onset, the symptoms of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis can be subtle such as:
Simple activities like buttoning a shirt, turning a key in a lock, or even writing may become difficult. Some people find it awkward to walk and may find themselves tripping or stumbling more often.
When your symptoms first appear in the arms or limbs, it is referred to as “limb onset”, while it is known as “bulbar onset” when the first symptoms are those affecting speech or swallowing. When only the upper motor neurons are affected, the condition is referred to as Primary Lateral Sclerosis.
Irrespective of the first signs of ALS, the disease progresses to symptoms such as difficulty in swallowing, speaking and breathing, and inability to use your arms or legs.
As ALS progresses, complications arise which include problems such as:
How is amyotrophic lateral sclerosis diagnosed?
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is usually diagnosed after obtaining a detailed history of the signs and symptoms as well as a physical examination. The presence of upper and lower motor neuron symptoms strongly supports a diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Here are some of the tests that will be advised if you are a suspected case of ALS:
How is amyotrophic lateral sclerosis treated?
No cure for ALS is yet available. However, several ALS treatment options that are available help to reduce the severity of the amyotrophic lateral sclerosis symptoms, prevent complications and make living with the disease easier.
Multidisciplinary teams offer a personalised treatment plan for ALS to keep patients as comfortable, independent, and mobile as possible.
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