Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is also referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease, after the famous baseball player who was diagnosed with it. “Amyotrophic” is derived from Greek language which means “no muscle nourishment”. “Lateral” denotes the person’s spinal cord where portions of the nerve cells that signal and control the muscles are located. The lateral region degenerates and leads to scarring or hardening (sclerosis) in the same region. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is a neurodegenerative disorders that mainly affects the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis impacts physical functions and causes muscle weakness. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis causes the nerve cells to gradually breakdown and die. ALS cannot be cured easily and eventually leads to death of the patients.
Motor neurons get degernated during amyotrophic lateral sclereosis. Motor neurons reach from the brain to the spinal cord and from the spinal cord to the muscles throughout the body. Due to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis the motor neurons die and thus the ability of the brain to initiate and control the muscle movement is lost. In few cases the ability to speak, eat, move and breathe is also lost. Patient suffering with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis can survive for 3-5 years after the initiation of disease. In rare cases the survival rate of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is increased to 5-10 years. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is common in men when compared to women.
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis symptoms vary from person to person. The most common symptoms of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis are progressive muscle weakness, tripping, dropping things, abnormal fatigue of arms and legs, difficulty in speech, muscle cramps, twitches and uncontrollable periods of laughing or crying. In severe cases patients experience difficulty in breathing and they need breathing assistance.
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is inherited in 5-10 percent of the cases. The possible causes of ALS includes
- Gene mutation – Various genetic mutations causes inherited amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
- Chemical imbalance – Chemical imbalance is one of the common cause of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis show higher levels of glutamate in the brain. Glutamate is a chemical messenger in the brain, which is present around the nerve cells in the spinal fluid. Presence of excess of glutamate is toxic to the nerve cells.
- Disorganized immune response – When the person’s immune system reacts against its own cells is referred to as disorganised immune response. The normal cells are attacked in such cases leading to death of the nerve cells.
It is difficult to diagnose patients suffering with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. There is not one test for diagnosing amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. The common diagnostic tests done to examine the effected organs include
- Blood test
- Urine test
- High resolution serum protein electrophoresis
- Spinal tap
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
- A thorough neurological examination
- Genetic test
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis cannot be completely cured, thus the treatment just focuses on minimizing the progressive symptoms. Early diagnosis and treatment helps in preventing unnecessary complications due to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. There are certain therapies which can be used to treat amyotrophic lateral sclerosis patients like: Physical therapy, Occupational therapy and speech therapy.