ALS or Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis is a incurable neurodegenerative disease that causes motor neurons to die in the brain and spinal cord resulting in a loss of muscle control throughout the body. This can impact arm and leg control as well as the ability to speak, eat, breathe or sleep. The average life expectancy is 2-5 years.
Types of ALS
Sporadic– this is the most common type of ALS accounting for 90% of cases.
Familial– the remaining cases are inherited through a mutated gene.
According to the ALS Association, military veterans are twice as likely to be diagnosed than the general population for unknown reasons.
ALS can be difficult to diagnose early, as many of the symptoms are similar to other neurological diseases so it’s important to rule them out.
Your neurologist will likely order several tests that can include an EMG, Nerve Conduction Study, MRI, Lumbar Puncture or blood test.
Most people who get ALS are between 40-70 years old and it’s more common in men.
Initial symptoms of ALS can vary from patient to patient. Gradual onset of muscle weakness is common. Slurred speech, change in speech, difficulty grasping objects, and abnormal fatigue of arms and legs are other early symptoms. Uncontrolled muscle twitches called fasciculations are also commonly seen. Advanced signs can include trouble breathing and swallowing.
While there is no cure for ALS, there are currently a couple of different medications approved. These medications cannot reverse the damage but can slow the progression of symptoms in some cases and potentially help make the patient more comfortable for a longer period of time.
Therapy is an important part of treating ALS as more muscles weaken.
- Breathing therapy. ALS can make breathing difficult. These therapists can recommend breathing assistant devices or mechanical ventilation.
- Physical therapy. This can help with walking and mobility as well as some pain management. Regular exercise can help keep muscles functioning better. These therapists can also assist patients in getting braces, walkers or wheelchairs.
- Speech therapy. This therapy can help the patient learn new ways to better communicate once their speech is impacted. They can also teach speech alternatives.
- Occupational therapy. ALS brings leg and arm weakness with it. This therapy can help teach the patient important skills so they can remain independent, longer.
- Psychological and nutrition support. ALS takes a great emotional toll on patients and their families. These therapists can help you manage those emotions as well as help you get finances in order and recommend better nutrition as swallowing becomes harder.
Ohio ALS support groups
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