Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a progressive neurological disease. It causes muscle weakness and gradually impacts on the functioning of the body. In ALS, motor neurons (nerve cells that control muscle cells) are gradually lost. After that, the muscles they control become weak and nonfunctional which may lead to eventual death. It is also referred to as motor neuron disease or Lou Gehrig’s disease. It was named after the famous baseball player who had the condition.
The word “amyotrophic” comes from Greek roots which means “without nourishment to muscles”. It refers to the loss of signals nerve cells normally send to muscle cells. “Lateral” means “to the side”. It refers to the location of the damage in the spinal cord. “Sclerosis” means “hardened” and refers to the hardened nature of the spinal cord in advanced ALS.
The disease was first discovered in 1869 by the French neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot. But it was the impact on Gehrig’s career in 1939 that truly brought ALS into public awareness.
Causes of ALS
Currently, experts do not know precisely what causes ALS. It can affect anyone regardless of gender, race, ethnicity or geographical location. Researchers are investigating several different possible causes of ALS. Some of them are:
- Disorganized immune response
- Chemical imbalance
- Mishandling of proteins
Symptoms of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis
- Fasciculations, cramps, tight and stiff muscles or spasticity
- Difficulty in carrying out daily activities, including walking
- Increased clumsiness
- Weakness in the feet, hands, legs and ankles
- Cramping and twitching in the arms, shoulders or tongue
- Difficulty in maintaining good posture and holding the head up
- Uncontrolled outbursts of laughing or crying
- Slurring of speech and difficulty with voice projection
- Difficulties with breathing and swallowing .
In most cases, ALS does not affect a person’s thinking ability. Some people with ALS develop some degree of cognitive or behavioral abnormality.
How is ALS diagnosed
Definitive diagnosis of ALS can not be tested. Although the presence of upper and lower motor neuron signs is strongly suggestive. The diagnosis of ALS is primarily based on the symptoms and signs the physician observes in the patient and a series of tests to rule out other diseases. Physicians obtain the individual’s full medical history and usually conduct a neurologic examination at regular intervals. That assess whether symptoms such as muscle weakness, atrophy of muscles, hyperreflexia, and spasticity are getting progressively worse.