July 18, 2012

ALS: Signs, Symptoms and Treatments

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a neurodegenerative disease that occurs when parts of the nervous system deteriorate. The disease continues to develop in the body, worsening, and is ultimately fatal. Because the disease is so progressive, it often starts out very slowly and can miss being detected. The following list details a number of ALS symptoms.

  • Weakness of muscles throughout the body, including the muscles used when speaking and breathing
  • Muscle cramps mostly in the upper and lower extremities as well as uncontrollable twitching
  • The inability to move arms and legs
  • A slowing of the voice due to an impairment in muscles of the mouth and throat

Although these are the most common signs and symptoms, ALS varies within each person. Eventually, these symptoms will appear, but in the initial phases it may be only one or two of them and may be very mild. As the disease progresses, walking can become more difficult if not completely impossible. ALS does not usually affect the mind. It can therefore be a very frustrating disease for the sufferer because they will be fully aware of their debilitating disease.

The treatment options for ALS are slim. There is only one drug currently approved for the treatment of motor neuron damage, Riluzole. Riluzole is not a cure, though. Patients taking Riluzole may experience a lengthened life of a few months. Riluzole does not rescind the disease, but it has been proven to slow the effects of ALS and prolong life.

Other than Riluzole, treatments for ALS are mostly designed to alleviate the painful symptoms of the disease. The following list of treatments has proven beneficial for many patients of ALS.

  • Prescriptions to reduce major symptoms such as muscle cramping and difficulty breathing
  • Physical therapy to increase muscle effectiveness and regain some motion
  • Exercise therapy to keep blood pressure normal and counter depression
  • Speech and language pathology can help ALS patients communicate more effectively with their limitations
  • Alternative medicines are available for patients interested in trying treatments off the beaten path