What is amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)?
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a terminal neurological disorder characterized by progressive degeneration of nerve cells in the spinal cord and brain. Often referred to as “Lou Gehrig’s disease” (a famous baseball player who died from the disease), it is one of the most devastating of the disorders that affects the function of nerves and muscles.
ALS does not affect mental functioning or the senses (such as seeing or hearing), and it is not contagious. Currently, there is no cure for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
What are the different types of ALS?
There are three known classifications of ALS, including the following:
- sporadic – the most common form of ALS in the US, involving 90 percent to 95 percent of all cases. These cases occur randomly, without any known cause, and there is no association with persons in the family with the disease.
- familial – suggests that the disease is inherited and accounts for a very small number of cases in the United States, about 5 percent to 10 percent.
- Guamanian – an extremely high incidence of ALS was observed in Guam and the Trust Territories of the Pacific in the 1950s.
Treatment for ALS:
Specific treatment for ALS will be determined by your physician based on:
- your age, overall health, and medical history
- extent of the disease
- your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
- expectations for the course of the disease
- your opinion or preference
For most people with ALS, primary treatment may involve the management of symptoms, and may include physical, occupational, speech, respiratory, and nutritional therapies. Some medications and/or heat or whirlpool therapy may help to relieve muscle cramping. Exercise, although recommended in moderation, may help to maintain muscle strength and function.
There is no proven treatment for ALS. However, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Rilutek®, the first drug that has prolonged the survival of persons with ALS.
Managing the symptoms of ALS is a process that may be challenging for people with the condition, their caregivers, and the medical team. However, it is important to know that there are many community resources available for support and assistance.
Researchers are conducting studies to increase their understanding of genes that may cause the disease, mechanisms that can trigger motor neurons to degenerate in ALS, and approaches to stop the progress leading to cell death.