Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as ALS, is a nervous system disease in which the neurons in the brain, as well as spinal cord, are attacked. The function of the neurons is to transfer messages from the brain and spinal cord to the voluntary muscles. The voluntary muscles are the ones which can be controlled, like in the arms and legs. ALS being a progressive disease can get worse as time passes. As it affects the nerves in the brain and spinal cord that control the muscles, the muscles get weaker and, this creates difficulty in walking, talking, eating, and even breathing. One should visit a brain hospital as soon as these symptoms start to appear.
Symptoms of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)
Some of the earliest signs of ALS include:
- Constant tripping and falling
- Difficulty in walking or doing the normal daily activities
- Weakness in hand or clumsiness
- Difficulty holding the head up or maintaining a good posture
- Weakness in leg, feet or ankles
- Muscle cramps and twitching in arms, tongue, and shoulders
- Trouble swallowing or slurred speech
Types of ALS
There exist two main types of ALS:
- Sporadic ALS: This being the most common form of ALS, affects up to 9 percent of individuals diagnosed with the disease. Sporadic means it sometimes happens without an apparent cause.
- Familial ALS (FALS): This type of ALS runs in families. However, only 5 to 10 percent of individuals with ALS have this type. A faulty gene passes to the children through their parents. If one parent has the ALS gene, each of their children will have a 50 percent chance of inheriting the gene and being diagnosed with the disease.
Causes of ALS
ALS is inherited in 5 to 10 percent of cases, while the remaining cases have no known cause. As per the researchers, these could be the several possible causes of ALS:
- Chemical Imbalance: Individuals with ALS usually have higher than normal levels of glutamate, which can be toxic to some nerve cells. Glutamate is a chemical messenger present in the brain, near the nerve cells in their spinal fluid.
- Gene Mutation: Many genetic mutations can lead to inherited ALS, which has almost similar symptoms as the non-inherited form.
- Protein Mishandling: Mishandled proteins present inside the nerve cells may accumulate which can eventually destroy the nerve cells.
- Disorganized Immune Response: At times an individual's immune system starts attacking some their normal cells, which may kill the nerve cells.
Risk Factors for ALS
Some of the established risk factors for ALS are:
- Heredity: 5 to 10 percent of the individuals with ALS inherited it, which is known as familial ALS.
- Age: The risk of ALS increases with age and people between the ages of 40 and 60 are more prone to be diagnosed with this disease.
- Sex: Slightly more males than females develop ALS before the age of 65. This sex difference tends to disappear after age 70.
- Genetics: There exist certain similarities in the genetic variations of individuals with familial ALS and some individuals with non-inherited ALS. These genetic variations might make individuals more vulnerable to ALS.
Treatment of ALS
Damage done by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis cannot be cured by treatments, however; medicines can slow the progression of symptoms, prevent complications and make an individual more independent as well as comfortable. One may require an integrated team of doctors skilled in multiple areas and other healthcare professionals to offer the right care. Doing this may prolong a patient’s survival and improve their quality of life.