What is ALS?

Definition of ALS

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also called Lou Gehrig’s Disease, is a progressive disorder that attacks nerve and muscle cells.

ALS affects the nerve cells that control voluntary muscle movement. Motor neurons, the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, gradually degenerate, which in turn causes the muscles of the body to weaken and atrophy, eventually leading to severe disabilities. Voluntary muscles become paralyzed, but cognitive and sensory abilities remain unaffected.

Most who develop ALS are between the ages of 40 and 70, and men and women are affected in nearly equal percentages.

Symptoms of ALS

  • Tripping
  • Clumsiness, dropping things
  • Pronounced or abnormal fatigue in arms and/or legs
  • Slurred speech
  • Muscle cramps and twitches
  • Difficulty walking, dressing and performing daily routine tasks

Eventually, muscle paralysis affects the muscles of the trunk of the body, and finally swallowing, chewing and breathing. At this point in the disease progression, ALS patients must have permanent ventilator support to survive.

Treatment of ALS

Although there is no cure for ALS, there are many things which can be done to improve quality of life and manage symptom progression, including:

  • Physical therapy and rehabilitation
  • braces, walker or wheelchair to improve mobility.

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Alzheimer’s is another disease that we study and treat at the Neurological Institute of San Antonio.