Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) – Lou Gehrig’s Disease
Also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease in North America and Motor Neuron disease in some British Commonwealth countries, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS is a condition in which motor neurons in the spinal cord and brain gradually expire. Patients with ALS slowly become handicapped because these neurons run the muscles that control body movement.
As ALS progresses, afflicted individuals have troubles walking, eating, speaking and finally, breathing, putting them at risk of injuries, illnesses and at worst, death. ALS sufferers typically die within three to five years since the onset of symptoms, but some patients are known to survive longer.
ALS is fortunately rare, affecting only 1 or 2 people out of 100,000 in America. Although it strikes regardless of age and whether or not a person live a healthy lifestyle, ALS is often documented in adults of middle age and above. Women are slightly less likely to develop ALS.
Scientists have yet to pinpoint ALS’ exact cause. In 1 out of 10 cases, the cause is most probably genetic. In other words, nine out of 10 patients are not closely related to an ALS sufferer.
ALS almost always begins with a leg or hand weakening. Other patients feel it in the tongue or face. Little by little, this sensation progresses to the arms and legs.
On a microcosmic scale, the motor neurons are slowly dying, becoming incapable of controlling the muscles. As a result, the muscles no longer receive directives for movement. With no signals telling them to move, the muscles eventually weaken and atrophy.
ALS specifically causes twitching in muscles; difficulty in using hands; and problems in eating, speaking, swallowing, walking and breathing. ALS does not cause numb or tingling sensations.
ALS worsens into severe respiratory conditions. Due to weakened muscles in the chest and throat, sufferers find it hard to breathe, swallow or even cough. Finally, they succumb to lung failure, heart failure, pneumonia, or pulmonary embolism.
Weak, stiff, tired or twitching muscles are no guarantees that one has ALS though; other conditions may cause those. To be sure, one should consult with a doctor first.
Doctors themselves have difficulties in determining if one has ALS. Sometimes the patient gets a diagnosis only when the symptoms have aggravated. To make a diagnosis, the doctor conducts a physical examination and questions the patient about symptoms and medical history. Then the patient submits to tests for the muscles and nerves.
These tests may include electromyogram (EMG), which determines the working condition of the muscles and nerves; muscle biopsy, which analyzes muscle tissue sample; and nerve conduction study, which measures nerve function.
Once a doctor suspects ALS, he or she relays the patient to a neurologist to confirm.
As yet, ALS has no cure. Current treatments for ALS, in general, only go as far as strengthening patients and easing their day-to-day life.
There is, however, a drug that can extend survival in ALS patients by around 60 days. Riluzole a.k.a. Rilutek, as this drug is called, cannot mitigate symptoms however. Moreover, Riluzole is linked to such side effects as nausea, cough, weakness, and dizziness. It can be extravagantly priced too.
Other medicines may provide relief from symptoms and some degree of comfort. They can alleviate pain, cramps, twitching, stiffness, dribbling, depression, and moodiness.
TremorSoothe is an all natural remedies that can help control and reduce twitches, muscle spasms, promotes calmed mood, soothes stress and reduces nervous tension.
Doctors recommend occupational or physical therapy to let patients take advantage of abilities they retain. They also suggest speech therapy for issues with talking.
Patients may avail of supportive equipment e.g. canes, handrails, raised toilets, ramps, shower seats, walkers, and wheelchairs. There are also braces for supporting the ankles, feet and neck. Breathing devices can assist breathing when ALS finally affects the muscles in the chest.
As symptoms of ALS step forward, a patient is confronted with a choice of treatments for breathing and eating. When breathing becomes a chore, a sufferer may need to resort to atracheostomy, for example. When eating becomes taxing, a feeding tube may be in order.
In any case, the amount and manner in which treatments are supplied are always the patient’s prerogative. An advance directive a.k.a. living will can give the patient some form of autonomy over his or her health affairs at a time when speaking or writing is taxing. Alternatively, the patient can delegate a close friend or relative to make decisions on his or behalf: a durable power of attorney. Most importantly, a patient should convey these plans early on.
For those whose loved ones have ALS, they should read plenty of information about the condition, especially in the area of giving care to patients. For patients, talking to doctors, counselors, and fellow patients can offer an emotion outlet. A patient’s caregivers may also need counseling themselves.