Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also called “Lou Gehrig’s Disease,” is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects motor nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. There is progressive degeneration of the motor neurons that connect spinal cord and muscles. In later stage of ALS the motor neurons are dead and the ability of the brain to initiate and control muscle movement is lost. Finally it leads to paralysis. Below are the ALS Symptoms stage by stage.
Initial ALS Symptoms: The initial symptoms of ALS can vary from person to person. The rate of progress can also be quite variable. Characteristic of this disease depends on the effect of upper motor neuron cells and lower motor neutron cells. With regard to the appearance of symptoms and the progression of the illness, the course of the disease may include the following als symptoms:
- Muscle weakness in one or more of the following: hands, arms, legs or the muscles of speech, swallowing or breathing
- Twitching (fasciculation) and cramping of muscles
- Abnormal, stiff or clumsy gait
- Limbs become much thin because of muscle loss in body. There will be difficulty in doing routine things such as dressing, washing and buttoning clothes.
- Decrease in muscle strength and coordination with pain in muscles
- It will be progressively difficult to lift something and climb the stairs.
- Change occurs in voice like roughness increases in voice
- There will be marked speech destruction such as abnormal or slow speech pattern.
- Difficulty occurs during swallowing
- Difficulty for breathing, efforts are required to take breath
- Laughing and crying periods are not controllable
- Frequently dropping, tripping the things
Advanced-Stage ALS Symptoms: In more advanced stages, shortness of breath, difficulty in breathing and swallowing. As the symptoms of weakening and paralysis continue to spread to the muscles of the trunk of the body the disease, eventually affects speech, swallowing, chewing and breathing. When the breathing muscles become affected, ultimately, the patient will need permanent ventilatory support in order to survive.
Since ALS attacks only motor neurons, the sense of sight, touch, hearing, taste and smell are not affected. For many people, muscles of the eyes and bladder are generally not affected.
Emerging ALS Symptoms:
- The emerging symptoms and the progression rate of disease differ from person to person.
- Difficulty in swallowing and chewing of food causes the patient to lose the ability to eat properly and also increase the changes of foods getting chocked.
- Lack of nutrition and proper nourishment leads to weight loss.
- Awareness about the progressive impairment of body parts cause depression in patients.
- In some small number of cases, patients develop a condition called frontotemporal dementia which involves profound personality changes.
- If the family has a history of dementia, then the chances of developing this condition increases many folds.
- Word-generation, decision-making and attention problems in mild degree are experienced by a major segment of patients.
- Breathing at night is affected as the disease progresses influencing the cognitive abilities negatively.
- Diaphragm and rib cage muscles later become weak.
Diagnosis and Treatment of ALS Symptoms: Every year nearly 5000 people in the United States are diagnosed with ALS symptoms. Most of them are men belonging to the age group of 40-70 years dying from either pneumonia or failure of respiratory system. Though death occurs within five years of diagnosis, half of the them diagnosed with ALS die within the first three years. The cause of this disease is not known yet. Research studies carried out on this topic point towards change in the molecular structure of genes, a process technically called mutation.
Researchers have found that excess levels of a neurotransmitter called glutamate in the spinal fluid leads to the development of ALS symptoms. Smoking last year (2009), is confirmed to be a risk factor of this disease. Symptoms of ALS are similar to a wide range of ailments and disorders. That is why, no single test can successfully diagnose this disease. A drug Riluzole targets the glutamate and is presently the only FDA approved drug for ALS with partial benefits. There are several drugs undergoing clinical trails all over the world to for treating ALS.