The recent ALS Association Ice Bucket Challenge trend on social media has raised significant awareness for a disease known as ALS. But how many people actually know what ALS is – the signs, symptoms and ways to treat it?
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a very rare degenerative neurological disease, also commonly referred to as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease.” According to the ALS Association, motor neurons reach from the brain to the spinal cord and from the spinal cord to the muscles throughout the body. The progressive degeneration of motor neurons in ALS eventually leads to patients’ death. When the motor neurons die, the ability of the brain to initiate and control muscle movement is lost. With voluntary muscle action progressively affected, patients in the later stages of the disease may become totally paralyzed.
The median age of onset is 55, but it may affect people in their late teens or in their 90s. The life expectancy of people with ALS is two to three years. The cause of ALS is currently unknown, but experts say that a combination of genetic and environmental factors could be the origin. There are regional and geographical variations, however the cause of those is still unknown.
Initial symptoms of the disease include:
- Muscle weakness in one or more of the following: hands, arms, legs or muscle of speech, swallowing or breathing
- Twitching and cramping of muscles, especially those in hands and feet
- Impairment of the use of arms and legs
- Thick speech and difficulty in projecting the voice
- In more advance stages: shortness of breath, difficulty in breathing and swallowing
Ways to diagnose ALS include:
- Know the symptoms
- Neurological examination
- MRI of the brain, cervical spine and myelogram
- Muscle or nerve biopsy
Aside from supportive therapy, there is currently no treatment for ALS. ALS organizations are working diligently to find effective treatments and a cure.
Since July 29, 2014, the ALS Association has received $115 million in donations. To learn more about ALS and how funds from the #ALSIceBucketChallenge are being used, click here.