Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis or ALS is also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease in the USA after the famous baseball player; as Motor Neurone Disease in Australia and Britain; and Maladie de Charcot in France. It is a progressive neuromuscular disease that affects and weakens motor neurons. These neurons are parts of the nervous system that link the brain to the skeletal muscles. ALS sooner or later destroys these neurons as certain nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that control voluntary movement like walking steadily deteriorate. With this the muscles controlled by these nerves weaken and atrophy, finally leading to paralysis.
ALS generally attacks men more than women and in middle age, and there is no barrier of race; sometimes, younger people are also affected. The symptoms can vary from loss of motor control in the limbs, tripping and falling without reason, loss of coordination, speech difficulties, continuous fatigue, shallow or difficult breathing and swallowing, and severe twitches and cramps. Patients with ALS will still have sphincter control, sensory ability, and their intellectual function. However, they may eventually be put on a respirator if their breathing is affected. There may be alterations in personality and behavior; and sometimes a few patients will suffer changes to cognition.
Researchers have discovered risk factors that include inherited genetic defects and linked ALS to Chromosome 21. Later, a gene called SOD1 was determined as being connected to some inherited instances in families. However, not all cases of inherited ALS could be ascribed to this gene and sometimes patients with ALS are the only ones in their family with this disease, so it has been assumed that other genetic causes must exist. Some studies suggest that the immune system may be involved in the development of this disease. Motor neurons can be overstimulated by extreme levels of glutamate, causing neuron death. Doctors diagnose ALS after eliminating other diseases such as multiple sclerosis.
No cure has yet been found for ALS. Generally treatments are tailored to ease the pain of symptoms and provide a better quality of life for the patients. Medications, special equipment, and physical and speech therapy provide relief and mobility as well as providing a means of communication.
ALS is a progressive and incurable disease. The life expectancy of people with ALS is mostly three to five years after diagnosis, while some patients can live up to 10 years. Hospice care can be explored as an option for patients with ALS so that they are provided treatment with reassurance and dignity while still being able to be surrounded by their loved ones.