- ALS is a progressive neurological condition that affects the nerve cells responsible for muscle control.
- The causes of ALS are unknown but seem to involve a dysfunctional immune system, environmental toxins, age and lifestyle factors, and certain medical conditions.
- Symptoms include muscle weakness, twitching, paralysis, difficulty speaking or swallowing, and weight loss.
- Treatment options include palliative care, physical therapy, medications, nutritional support, respiratory support, and emotional/psychosocial support.
- There is no known cure for ALS yet; however, proper treatment can help improve the quality of life for those living with it.
Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a neurological condition that affects the nerve cells responsible for muscle control. When these cells break down, messages from the brain to muscles are disrupted, leading to muscle weakness, twitching, and eventually paralysis. ALS is a progressive disease that worsens over time, affecting voluntary and involuntary muscle movement. Here are the causes of ALS, its symptoms, and current treatment options.
The exact cause of ALS is not well understood. Only 10% of ALS cases are inherited, known as familial ALS. Here are some possible reasons for this disease.
Dysfunctional Immune System
Recent studies have discovered that people with autoimmune diseases may have an increased risk of developing ALS. Autoimmune diseases cause the body’s immune system to attack healthy tissues, and it is suspected that a similar process may occur in ALS. One hypothesis is that the immune system attacks the healthy brain and spinal cord nerve cells, leading to degeneration and death.
Some environmental factors have been linked to an increased risk of developing ALS. For example, military veterans are more likely to develop the disease than the general population. Exposure to certain chemicals, such as lead and mercury, is also associated with a higher risk of ALS. Individuals receiving prolonged exposure to these toxins are most at risk for developing ALS.
Age and Lifestyle Factors
ALS is often associated with aging, as the risk of developing the disease increases. Additionally, some studies show evidence that physical activity decreases the risk of ALS. Smoking and alcohol consumption have been identified as lifestyle factors that may increase the risk of developing the disease.
Certain medical conditions, such as diabetes, hypertension, viral infections, and kidney or liver diseases, have been associated with ALS.
ALS symptoms can develop gradually and usually start with muscle weakness, especially in the arms and legs. As the disease progresses, many muscles are affected, including those responsible for speech, swallowing, and breathing. Patients may experience difficulties doing everyday activities such as walking, holding objects, or speaking clearly. Other signs of ALS include muscle cramps, twitching, weight loss, and changes in cognition and behavior.
There is no known cure for ALS, but treatments are known to improve people with the disease. Here are some of them:
Those who are in the later stages of ALS are often bedridden. This is why palliative care is essential for them. Contact your local hospice care service and ask what they can offer you. Oftentimes, they offer pain management, emotional support, and other services that can help make life a bit easier.
Physical therapy is an integral part of managing ALS symptoms. It can help to strengthen weakened muscles and improve mobility. Physical therapists can also teach exercises to maintain muscle strength and flexibility.
Medications for ALS
Currently, two FDA-approved medications are used for treating ALS, Riluzole and Edaravone. Riluzole extends the survival of patients and slows down the disease progression, while Edaravone slows down the functional decline rate in patients with ALS. Your doctor may prescribe these medications, but remember that they are not a cure for ALS.
ALS may lead to difficulty swallowing and weight loss as the disease progresses, affecting the patient’s overall health and quality of life. A nutritionist can help develop a personalized plan that meets the patient’s dietary and caloric needs. Special diets, supplements, or feeding tubes may be needed to help patients maintain proper nutrition.
ALS can affect the muscles that control breathing, leading to respiratory problems. To help manage such issues, patients may need to use a Bi-Level Positive Airway Pressure (BiPAP) machine, Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine, or Non-Invasive Ventilation (NIV).
Emotional and Psychosocial Support
Living with ALS can be challenging, and ALS patients and their families must receive emotional and psychosocial support throughout the disease’s progression. Support groups, individual counseling, and psychiatric care can help address the depression and anxiety that people with ALS commonly experience.
ALS is a progressive disease that causes muscle weakness, paralysis, and death. There is no known cure, but the proper treatment can help to improve the quality of life for those living with ALS. It’s essential to stay informed about advances in ALS treatment to take advantage of new options as they become available. Speak to your doctor about the best strategies for managing symptoms and ask questions if something isn’t clear. Those living with ALS may enjoy a better quality of life with proper care.