Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) is also known as Motor Neuron Disease (MND) or Lou Gehrig’s disease (LGD). This is a nervous system disease that impacts physical functioning and weakens muscles. Its actual cause is unknown
ALS is 100% fatal and it cannot be cured only medication and therapy can slow it and reduce discomfort.
CAUSES OF ALS DISEASE
The actual causes of ALS have not been revealed but there are several risk factors that have been established to be able to accelerate ALS.
The causes of ALS (risk factors)
- Hereditary – ALS has been established to be hereditary in about 5 – 10% of the people suffering from it. There is a very high likelihood for ALS to affect another person in a family that someone has suffered from it before.
- Smoking – This can trigger ALS mostly in women who have bypassed menopause. Nitric acid and other components of cigarette smoke cause direct damage to neurons thus increasing the effects of ALS.
- Age – Age is also a risk factor for ALS disease. The disease is highly prevalent among people between the ages of 40 – 60 years.
- Sex – This can also be an accelerator to ALS disease. Below the age of 65 years, this disease is common in men but above the ages of 70, it is balanced and can affect both men and women in an equal percentage.
- Serving in the military – Study has also established that most people who have served in the military are at a higher risk of suffering from ALS disease. The actual reasoning behind this has not been established but it might be because of exposure to minerals and other injuries.
Symptoms of ALS disease
It’s very difficult to list the actual signs and symptoms of ALS because the symptoms vary greatly from one person to another and also depends on the type of neuron that is affected.
Some of the commonly witnessed symptoms might be divided into initial and advanced symptoms;
Some of the earlier common symptoms of ALS may include;
- Tripping or falling
- Slurred speech
- Difficulty in holding things on the hand
- Muscle cramps
- Muscle stiffness
- Difficulty in holding the head up
- Difficulty in swallowing while eating
- Worsening posture. Doesn’t stand straight
When ALS becomes advanced more problems and effects develop as the muscles become weaker. Some of the symptoms that show up at advance stage include;
- Breathing difficulties
- Slurred speech becomes worse as people cannot understand easily when a person is speaking
- Weaker muscles
- Swallowing and chewing becomes more difficult
ALS diagnosis is done based on the symptoms observed by the doctor and after carrying out a series of tests to rule out the possibility of other mimicking diseases of ALS.
Below are the several methods that can be used to diagnose ALS;
- Carrying out blood and urine tests in the laboratory – This will help the doctor to rule out the possibility of a different disease showing the signs of ALS
- Removing the spinal fluid sample for testing – The doctor can decide to remove a small sample of your nervous fluid for testing in the laboratory. This is sometimes called a spinal tap or lumbar puncture. A small needle is inserted between two vertebrae in your lower back and a small fluid sample is harvested.
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) – A doctor can resolve to use MRI in order to get the images of your brain and spinal cord. MRI uses radio waves and a powerful magnetic field to get the images. It can reveal spinal cord tumors or any other disease that might be causing the symptoms you might be experiencing.
- Nerve conduction study – This can be used to determine any occurrence of nerve damage or the availability of any nerve or muscle infections.
- Electromyogram (EMG) – This used to evaluate the electrical activity of the muscles when they contract and when at rest. This will help the doctor to gauge if you are really suffering from ALS or not.
ALS cannot be cured but its effects can just be reduced. There are different methods that can be used to minimize or in the treatment of ALS;
There are two main drugs that have been approved by the US FDA for the treatment of ALS. The drugs are;
- Riluzole (Rilutek) – This drug reduces damage to motor neurons by decreasing levels of glutamate, which transports messages between nerve cells and motor neurons. It is taken orally and is also believed to be able to increase life expectancy by a few months, approximately six months.
- Edaravone (Radicava) – This drug has been seen to be able to improve a person’s ability in participating in daily activities such as walking and doing other daily chores.
As part of medication, a doctor can also prescribe certain medications to relieve symptoms such as; muscle cramps, stiffness, constipation, fatigue, pain, depression, sleep problems, excess saliva and phlegm and uncontrolled outbursts of laughing or crying.
There are several therapies that can be used in the treatment of ALS in order to reduce side effects and the effects of symptoms of ALS;
Therapies used in the treatment of ALS include:
- Physical therapy – This will be very appropriate throughout the course of ALS. A physical therapist can help in solving issues such as pain, mobility, bracing and assembling equipment that will help you in walking around. Physical exercises can also help improve your sense of well being and help improve muscle functioning if you involve yourself in stretching and other simple exercises.
- Breathing therapy – As ALS becomes advanced breathing problems become more advanced and thus doctors will be forced to provide you with devices that will assist you in breathing. They can prescribe mechanical ventilation which involves inserting a tube surgically to the front of your neck and it leads to the windpipe. This will assist in breathing.
- Speech therapy – Slurred speech becomes a greater effect at advanced stags of ALS. A speech therapist will assist in training a person on how to speak louder and well in order to be understood. They can also provide devices such as computer-based speech synthesizers that use eye-tracking technology and can help in answering yes or no questions.
- Occupational therapy – An occupational therapist can help in training a person on how they can do their daily chores without too much difficulty by providing them with other support equipment. They can help in training them on how to do their own dressing, grooming, bathing, and eating.
- Nutrition therapist – Nutritional therapists will be able to advise family members on the appropriate meals to give to a person suffering from ALS. People suffering from this disease tend to become weaker when they lose weight, thus providing meals on a frequent basis can be very beneficial. Eventually, a person suffering from ALS might be forced to use a tube for feeding.
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Up to now, nobody has ever been reported to have recovered fully from ALS. This disease has no cure and once a person suffers from it, there is no hope of recovering but you have to organize yourselves on how to take care of them.
Doctors are still struggling tirelessly to get its cure and some have even commented on this disease as being terrible of all.
If any member suffers from it just try seeing the doctor for medication and use appropriate therapies as illustrated above.