ALS disease is a degenerative condition that affects the brain and the spinal cord.
Not a lot of people are familiar with ALS disease. Chances are, they have never heard of it before. And if they had, they might have seen it on television, featuring a touching story of a person suffering from ALS. This is a very rare condition, affecting only 1-3 people in a population of 100, 000. In this article, we would be talking about ALS disease, its causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment. We might not get all the answers, but at least we would have some idea about this condition.
What is ALS Disease?
ALS disease, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a condition that affects the nervous system. ALS means amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. The cells affected in this condition are located in the spinal cord and in the brain, thus affecting voluntary muscle control. The name Lou Gehrig was the name of the first person diagnosed of the condition.
The origin of ALS is not very clear. About 10% of the cases are genetic, but the causes of the others are unknown. Research is still being conducted with regards to this disease.
What are the Symptoms of ALS Disease?
Spotting the symptoms early would mean that you could get treatment as early as possible. This would improve one’s survival rate. However, for most part, some of these symptoms do not develop until around the age of 50. These are the symptoms that you should watch out for:
- Muscular weakness in the arms and legs
- Swallowing, speaking or breathing problems
- Twitching in the hands and legs
- Cramping in the arms and legs
- Impaired use of the arms and legs
- Difficulty speaking
- Head drop due to neck muscle weakness
As these symptoms worsen, it would only end in paralysis. But this should not be viewed as a hindrance. ALS only affects the major muscle groups, but your senses and bowel and bladder functions are not affected. Your brain functions are still intact too. One of the great men suffering from ALS disease is Dr. Stephen Hawking. And as you can see, he still continued on to do great work in the field of physics and even children literature.
How is ALS Disease Diagnosed?
Diagnosing ALS could be quite hard as there are no causative organisms to look for. Most physicians diagnose ALS disease by virtue of elimination. They check everything from blood tests down to spinal fluid and eliminate other like-diseases one by one. Once everything has been eliminated, that would be the time that doctors could conclude that the patient is indeed suffering from ALS. The following would be some of the tests performed on a patient suspected of ALS:
- Blood tests are done to search for foreign organisms in the blood that might have caused the symptoms. They could also look for creatine kinase which is an enzyme that leaks from damaged muscles.
- Lung function tests are done to check if breathing has been affected.
- A CT Scan or MRI would be done to check for any injury in the spinal cord or the brain.
- Electomypgraphy is a test done to check for the conduction of electrical signal in the muscles.
- Muscle biopsy is done to rule out other conditions that might cause ALS-like symptoms.
- Nerve Conduction Studies tests the speed of nerve impulse conduction from the neurons to your muscles.
- Lumbar puncture is performed to aspirate CSF fluid for testing.
A thorough family history would also be taken. This is very important because if a family member has been found to have ALS, that would be the final confirmation your physician would need.
How to Treat ALS
Treatment for ALS disease would require a team of well-trained medical professionals. This would include neurologists, physical therapists, dietitians, speech therapists, psychiatrists, an army of caregivers and many others. They would have to collaborate as each system is related with the other, and oftentimes, their areas overlap.
- Medication prescribed to patients with ALS would be based on the symptoms exhibited. The main goal of the pharmacological therapy would be to reduce the symptoms and slow down nerve damage.
- Physical therapy would be needed to slow down muscle atrophy as much as possible. It is also needed to reduce muscular spasms and cramping.
- Speech therapy would be needed since the use of vocal cords would soon be diminished. Writing would be moot as well since the patient no longer has the function of his hands.
- Family support. There is nothing better than having the love and care of those that are important to you. Family support would help the patient have the courage to go through his condition because he knows that people are there for him.
ALS can never be cured. People suffering from ALS disease are under palliative care because no amount of medication or treatment could reverse the degenerative process.