An Overview of ALS Disease

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, often abbreviated to ALS, is a neurological disease caused by environmental and genetic circumstances in most cases. The disease is characterized by a variety of neurological symptoms produced by the death of motor neurons which operate the voluntary muscles in a person’s body. Keep reading if you have ever asked: “What is ALS disease?”

History and Classification of ALS Disease

ALS disease has been diagnosed in patients since the early 1800s. The disease is also known as motor neuron disease or Lou Gehrig’s disease (the latter named for the famous baseball player who was diagnosed and died from ALS disease). It is identified by the location of the body where it begins and the speed of its progression in the patient. Indicators of ALS disease can start in the brain or spinal cord.

Epidemiology and Distribution of ALS Disease

This disease may develop in people of all ages, races, and ethnicities around the world. In the United States, according to a 2015 report by the Center for Disease Control, ALS disease is most likely to affect non-Hispanic white men over the age of 60 with a family history of the disease. Currently, ALS disease is ranked as the third most prevalent neurodegenerative disease (behind Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease). For motor neuron diseases, it is listed at the top of the chart. However, scientists warn that there has been more research performed on patients of Northern European descent in the United States and Europe, which skews the results on a worldwide scale. More research is required to determine the causes and locations of ALS disease in the international community.

Symptoms and Prognosis of ALS Disease

There are a variety of symptoms indicative of ALS disease. When forming a diagnosis of a patient, a doctor will look for:

  • Muscle stiffness, weakness, and atrophy
  • Slurred speech or trouble saying words
  • Difficulty breathing and/or swallowing
  • Decreased cognitive abilities (memory loss, dementia, inhibition loss)
  • Problems with arms or legs such as stumbling, twitching or dragging limbs

In advanced cases of ALS disease, patients can experience an inability to walk, move their arms, chew food, cough, speak and breathe. Those afflicted with the disease will eventually need ventilatory support, physical therapy sessions, dietary changes, and medication. These options will help to slow or relieve symptoms in patients. Palliative or hospice care is recommended for all patients with ALS disease since there is currently no cure.

If you think that you or a loved one are experiencing symptoms of ALS disease, make an appointment with your doctor for an examination.