Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) is a rare disease impacting motor neurons. The motor neurons are involved in controlling muscle movement.
In ALS, motor neurons degenerate and die. Dying of motor neurons stop the nerve impulses, which causes muscle weakness and eventually atrophy. Gradually, the brain loses its ability to start and control voluntary movements. It is a progressive disease; the symptoms get worse over time. ALS does not impact mental functioning and senses.
This disease is characterized by muscle weakness and, eventually, paralysis. It is also called Lou Gehrig's disease.
ALS is of two types.
Sporadic is the most common type of ALS where there is no history of ALS (90 to 95%)
Familial ALS is inherited and impacts a small proportion of patients
ALS usually strikes people between 55 and 75, with men slightly more likely to develop the disease than women.
The symptoms of ALS vary from person to person and depend on which nerve cells are affected. The most common symptoms include:
Challenges while using arms and legs
Diagnosing ALS can be difficult, as no single test can confirm the disease. These tests may include:
Electromyography (EMG) helps to identify areas of muscle weakness.
Blood and urine tests can help rule out other conditions causing symptoms.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): This test uses magnetic fields to create brain and spinal cord images, helping to rule out other conditions.
To rule out other conditions, a lumbar puncture is a procedure that involves extracting a sample of cerebrospinal fluid from the spinal canal.
While there is no cure for ALS, treatments available can assist with symptom management and enhance an individual's quality of life.
Treatment options include:
Medications: Several medications can help manage symptoms of ALS, including muscle cramps, drooling, and excess saliva.
FDA-approved Qalsody for SOD1-ALS in 2023
Relyvrio was approved in 2022
Assistive devices: People with ALS may benefit from using assistive devices, such as braces, walkers, and wheelchairs, to help with mobility.
For individuals with ALS, speech therapy can aid in enhancing communication abilities and addressing issues with swallowing.
Breathing support: As the disease progresses, people with ALS may require breathing support, such as a ventilator or BiPAP machine, to help them breathe.