Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. This is a motor neuron disease that damages the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, which enable the functioning of muscles that allow movement.
The following are the three types of ALS:
- Sporadic: A common form of ALS. About 90 to 95 percent of people with ALS have this type. These cases occur without a known cause or any family history of ALS. People with sporadic ALS develop the disease in their late 50s.
- Familial: Also called genetic ALS. A small percentage (5 to 10 percent) of people with ALS are affected by this type, which is mostly seen in people in their early 50s.
- Guamanian: This form of ALS is the most common type seen in Guam and Trust territories of the Pacific.
What is amyotrophic lateral sclerosis?
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a progressive type of motor neuron disease. The condition usually affects voluntary muscles, which help in the activities of daily life, such as chewing, moving arms and legs, and swallowing.
- ALS is considered progressive as its symptoms may worsen gradually and may eventually turn fatal.
- ALS occurs mostly in people in the age group of 40 to 70 years.
What are the symptoms of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis?
Every individual may have different amyotrophic lateral sclerosis symptoms, depending on the type of muscle that is affected. The symptoms may be mild initially but worsen with time.
Symptoms may include:
- Muscles weakness, especially in the hands and legs
- Twitching and muscle cramping
- Difficulty speaking
- Muscle stiffness
- Trouble breathing
- Difficulty swallowing
In later stages, the symptoms may be severe, which may cause difficulty breathing and paralysis and, sometimes, may even lead to death.
What are the risk factors for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis?
The following are the risk factors for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS):
- Men are at a higher risk of ALS than women, but the sex difference may disappear after the age of 70 years
- A family history of ALS (although only 5 to 10 percent of people with ALS are affected by inherited familial ALS)
- Exposure to harmful toxins
Studies report that people in military service are expected to have an increased risk of ALS. The exact cause is unknown, but it may be due to exposure to harmful substances and traumatic injuries to the brain.
How to diagnose amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
There is no specific test for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Some tests may be done to exclude other health conditions, such as:
- Lab tests, such as blood and urine test
- Muscle and nerve biopsy (a procedure of removing a portion of cells or tissues from the muscle or nerves, which are then examined under a microscope)
- Nerve conduction test to check the ability of nerves to transmit the signals
- MRI to check the area of damage caused in the brain and spinal cord
How to treat amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
The treatment of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) includes the management of the symptoms. Few medicines are used to relieve muscle cramps. Exercise helps improve muscle strength and functioning. Speech therapy, occupational therapy, and breathing support are often required.
There is no particular cure for the disease, but FDA-approved medicines such as riluzole, edaravone, and sodium phenylbutyrate may slow disease progression and improve the survival of people with ALS.
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MS (Multiple Sclerosis) vs. ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis)ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Lou Gehrig's disease) and MS (multiple sclerosis) are both diseases of the nervous system (neurodegenerative). ALS is a disease in which the nerve cells in the body are attacked by the immune system, although it's not considered an autoimmune disease by some scientists. MS is an autoimmune disease in which the insulated covering of the nerves (myelin sheath) in the CNS (central nervous system) degenerate, or deteriorate.
Scientists don't know the exact cause of either problem. However, they have discovered that mutations in the gene that produces the SOD1 enzyme were associated with some cases of familial ALS. Scientists also theorize that multiple sclerosis may be caused by infection or vitamin D deficiency. ALS occurs between 50-70 years of age (the average age of occurrence ALS is 55), and mostly affects men. While MS occurs between 20-60 years of age, and mostly affects women. About 30,000 people in the US have ALS, and an average of 5,000 new diagnoses per year (that's about 15 new cases per week). Worldwide, MS affects more than 2.3 million people, with about 10,000 new cases diagnosed each year (that's about 200 new diagnoses per week).
Some of the signs and symptoms of both diseases include muscle weakness, muscle spasms, problems walking, fatigue, slurred speech, and problems swallowing. ALS signs and symptoms that are different from MS include problems holding the head upright, clumsiness, muscle cramps and twitches, problems holding objects, and uncontrollable periods of laughing or crying. MS signs and symptoms that are different from ALS include vision problems, vertigo and balance problems, sexual problems, memory problems, depression, mood swings, and digestive problems.
There is no cure for either disease, however the prognosis and life expectancy are different. Multiple sclerosis is not a fatal condition, while ALS progresses rapidly and leads to death.
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