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Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)
(Lou Gehrig's Disease; Motor Neuron Disease)

Definition:
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a progressive nervous system disorder. It gradually destroys the nerves responsible for muscle movement. Over time, ALS leads to total paralysis of muscle movement, including respiration.

Causes:
The cause of ALS is not known, but it appears that genes may play a role in a very small number of cases.

Risk Factors:
A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or condition.
  • Having a family member with ALS
Symptoms:
Symptoms include:
  • Progressive weakness in arms and legs (at first often on only one side)
  • Trouble holding things without dropping them
  • Frequent tripping while walking
  • Shrunken muscles
  • Twitchy muscles
  • Overactive reflexes
  • Slurred speech
  • Hoarseness
  • Trouble chewing and swallowing, resulting in frequent choking and gagging
  • Weight loss due to trouble eating
  • Trouble breathing
  • Excess salivation, drooling
  • Trouble coughing, resulting in development of pneumonia
Diagnosis:
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical exam. There are no tests that definitively diagnose ALS, but tests may be used to rule out other medical conditions.

Tests may include:

  • Electromyogram (EMG) – to look for progressive muscle weakness and twitching
  • CT Scan - a type of x-ray that uses a computer to make pictures of the structures inside the head
  • MRI Scan - a test that uses magnetic waves to make pictures of the structures inside the head
  • Blood Tests
  • Urine Tests
Treatment:
There are currently no cures for ALS. The drug riluzole has been approved for ALS with a clinical trial revealing a modest lengthening of survival. It may slightly improve functioning for ALS patients, although it doesn't stop the disease progression. Other drugs are also being studied.

Treatments for the symptoms of ALS include :

Valium, Baclofen, or Dantrolene - to reduce spasticity

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (such as ibuprofen) and other pain medications - to reduce pain from muscle cramping

Physical Therapy – to reduce pain associated with muscle cramping and spasticity

Atropine, Scopolamine, or an Antihistamine – to reduce heavy drooling

Antidepressants, Anxiolytic Drugs, and Psychotherapy – to treat depression and anxiety

Prevention:
There are no guidelines for preventing ALS because the cause is not known.
 
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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