Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also called Lou Gehrig’s Disease, is a terminal, degenerative disorder of the nerve cells, spinal cord, and brain. Over time, patients may experience muscle weakness, loss of function, and paralysis. 

What is Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)?

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a terminal neuromuscular disorder that affects the function of the nerves and muscles. The disease is progressive, limiting the patient’s ability to move their arms, legs, and body. ALS does not affect the patient’s mind or intelligence, and patients still maintain their senses of sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch.

More than 12,000 Americans have ALS, and it is one of the most common neuromuscular disorder worldwide. Most cases of ALS appear to be random, with no known cause or family history of the disease. About five to 10 percent of ALS cases are inherited.

Diagnosing Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)

The initial symptoms of ALS may be so subtle, they can be overlooked. Patients may experience stiff or tight muscles, cramps, or muscle weakness in the arms or legs. As the disease progresses, the symptoms can become more pronounced in ways that could cause a physician to suspect ALS.

An ALS diagnosis is usually made by a full review of a patient’s medical history, and neurological examinations to track the progression of the symptoms.

There is no diagnostic test specifically for ALS, but some tests are conducted to rule out other diseases. The following tests, if showing abnormalities, can support an ALS diagnosis: 

  • Electromyography (EMG) – detects electrical activity in muscles
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) – takes detailed images of the brain and spinal cord
  • Nerve conduction study – measures electrical activity in nerves

Treatment for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)

There is no cure for ALS, however, researchers continue to conduct clinical trials to find medications that may effectively treat the disease. 

Physicians can prescribe medications and therapies to treat the symptoms of ALS and improve a patient’s quality of life. Some drugs may relieve muscle cramps or spasms, ease pain, fatigue, or sleeplessness. Supportive care through physical therapy and special equipment to facilitate mobility are often used.