ALS- Amyotrophic-Lateral-Sclerosis- AKA Lou Gehrig’s Disease
ALS was discovered in 1869 by French neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot. It wasn’t until 1939 that baseball player Lou Gehrig brought national and international attention to the disease.
This terrible disease was recently brought back into the spotlight with the Ice Bucket Challenge and even more recently, the death of scientist Stephen Hawking.
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a disease that attacks motor nerve cells called neurons. These neurons transmit messages from your brain and spinal cord then to your voluntary muscles – the muscles you can control, like your arms and legs.
The nervous system consists of 3 components. They are the: brain, spinal column, neurons.
First I must say, Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a group of neurological diseases that mainly involve the nerve cells that are responsible for controlling voluntary muscle movement. Voluntary muscles produce movements like chewing, walking, and talking.
ALS belongs to a group of disorders known as motor neuron diseases, which are caused by gradual deterioration (degeneration) and death of motor neurons. Motor neurons are nerve cells that extend from the brain to the spinal cord and to muscles throughout the body. These motor neurons initiate and provide communication links between the brain and the voluntary muscles.
The NIH reports In 2016 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that between 14,000 – 15,000 Americans have ALS
An example of how a healthy nervous system works would be when you reach out to pick up a glass, pencil or turn a door knob. The brain sends a signal down the spinal cord and to the nerve pathways to stimulate the muscle to perform a task.
In ALS the motor neurons start to degenerate or die, stop sending messages to the muscles. Unable to function without stimulation from the brain and nerves, the muscles gradually weaken, and waste away- decrease in size and strength (atrophy). Eventually, the brain loses its ability to initiate and control voluntary movements.
Unfortunately gradually all the muscles under voluntary control are affected, and individuals lose their strength and the ability to speak, eat, move, and even breathe.
In the beginning of ALS its symptoms may not be very noticable. They could be something as simple as:
Trouble with walking or running
Trouble with writing
Possibly some speech problems
May have trouble chewing, swallowing or difficulty performing simple tasks
If this disease were not troubling enough, imagine having your brain continuing to have functioning-thoughts, ideas and ability to problem solve still be present, but not be able to communicate or do these thoughts. I have always had great empathy for people with ALS. Only a small percentage of people with ALS have problems with decision making. Meaning the majority of people retain their brain function.
My heart aches for people affected by ALS, eventually the muscles that they use to breathe including their diaphragm (this is the muscle underneath your lungs that helps you breathe) will weaken and they will have difficulty breathing. This unfortunately will cause people to become dependent on NIV (non invasive ventilation) or a ventilator for their breathing. Which comes with its own risk factors like infection.
There are different types of ALS when first diagnosed, they are based on the source/area of symptoms at onset. They are:
Bulbular – difficulty with swallowing or speaking
Limb – difficulty with tasks, weakness, spasms, cramps, twitching.
Science still does not know what causes ALS, there are many theories of possible causes. This disease does not appear to discriminate between race or gender.
There is a small percentage of people who will inherit the disease from their parents or grandparents- helping to support the genetic theory of cause. Other genetic research on ALS has found people with ALS have several genetic changes (mutations).
Another group has been called the Sporadic ALS- this is a person that has no genetic factors, ALS that randomly occurs.
Since there is no cure right now, treatment for ALS generally will involve supportive therapy, to help with the symptoms that are being experienced. They can range from medications, therapies like physical and or speech therapy, specialized equipment, as well as nutritional support. If you have difficulty swallowing, you may not eat as much or eat things that will benefit or support body functions, can lead to weakness and or decline.
If you feel you are experiencing a similar symptoms, or have concerns, please contact your physician or practitioner!
If you have been diagnosed with ALS or know someone who has, there are resources available at: www.alsa.org
**********THIS INFORMATION IS TO BE USED AS EDUCATIONAL INFORMATION, THIS IS NOT TO BE INTERPRETED AS MEDICAL ADVICE*********