Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is one of the most common degenerative diseases of the nervous system that affects the brain and spinal cord. It occurs when the nerve cells (neutrons) that control muscle movement in the brain and spinal cord get affected, which in turn weakens the muscles. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is a chronic disorder that causes loss of control of voluntary muscles, the muscles which you can control. Most often nerves controlling speech, swallowing and limb (hands and legs) movements are affected due to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and hence, their functions become impaired.
Causes of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis are still under research. In some cases, it is inherited. There are possibilities of a combination of genetic and environmental factors. However, the actual cause is unknown.
- Muscle cramps
- Stiff muscles(spasticity)
- Muscle weakness
- Muscle twitches in the arms, legs, shoulder or tongue(fasciculations)
- Slurred speech
- Difficulty in swallowing and chewing
- Shortness of breath
- Difficulty in doing daily activities such as walking
- Falling more often.
- Behavioural changes
Diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis can be difficult at earlier stages. It must be differentially diagnosed from other neurological diseases. Diagnostic tests for Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis include:
- Magnetic resonance imaging(MRI)
- Nerve Conduction Study
- Blood tests
- Urine tests
- Muscle biopsy
- Lumbar puncture
There is no definite preventive measure for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
Treatment for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis cannot completely cure the condition. It can slow down the progression of the disease and prevent further complications. Medications and therapies are the currently available treatment options for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
- Medications are provided for increasing life expectancy and reduce the decline in functioning of daily activities. Drugs are also prescribed to provide relief from symptoms such as muscle cramps, pain, fatigue, drooling.
- Therapies include:
- Physiotherapy for improving muscle functions like walking, muscle pain, mobility, and suggests assistive equipment to stay independent, if necessary.
- Occupational therapy for improving activities of daily living such as dressing, eating, bathing etc to help the patient stay independent.
- Speech therapy to deal with speech and swallowing difficulties.
- Breathing cares to assist in breathing as muscles get more weakened.
- Nutritional support is an important part in the treatment. Nutritionists assists the caregivers in planning small and healthy meals that provide enough calories, fibres, nutrients and other requirements. Also, avoid meals that are difficult to swallow.
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