Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also called Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a rare degenerative disorder of the motor neurons in the brain and spinal cord. These cells are responsible for connecting muscles to the brain, so their deterioration leads to difficulty with movement, muscle weakness, and eventual atrophy.
ALS causes issues with the movement and coordination of muscles, although which muscle groups are affected at first varies from patient to patient. Potential symptoms include:
- Difficulty with balance and walking; tripping
- Issues picking up or dropping objects
- Slurred speech
- Twitching muscles in the hands or feet
- Muscle weakness, especially in the arms or legs
- Difficulty swallowing
In the United States, about 5,000 people are diagnosed with ALS each year. Anyone can be afflicted with ALS, but it does occur in some individuals more than others.
- Age. ALS typically develops in people between the ages of 40 and 70 years old.
- Sex. ALS is slightly more common in men than women.
- Veteran status. ALS is also more common in military veterans than in the general population.
There are no known lifestyle factors (diet, exercise, etc.) that increase or decrease the risk of ALS. Similarly, most ALS cases occur in individuals with no family history of the disease.
How is ALS diagnosed and treated?
ALS is diagnosed based on symptoms reported to your doctor, in-office physical and neurological examinations, and detailed patient history. In the course of diagnosing ALS, several diseases with similar symptoms may need to be ruled out. Your doctor may order several tests to this end, including:
- Blood tests
- Urine tests
- Imaging studies (X-rays or MRIs)
- Spinal tap
- Nerve biopsies
- Electrodiagnostic assessment, a pair of tests conducted by a specialist to determine where and how much a nerve is damaged. Electrodes are used to apply and measure electric currents to the nerves and muscles where damage is suspected.
There is currently no cure for ALS. Treatment centers around maintaining patient independence and alleviating symptoms, such as pain from muscle cramps or difficulties with speech and swallowing. The exact course of treatment is determined by you and your doctor to suit your symptoms. Treatments typically include physical therapy, speech therapy, mobility aids such as splints or wheelchairs, and medication for pain relief.
Who Choose NGPG?
If you or a loved one is suffering from a degenerative disease like ALS, you want to know you’re in good hands. NGPG Neuroscience employs an experienced team of board-certified neurologists, neurosurgeons, neurointerventional surgeons, neuropsychiatrists, and other specialists who provide high-quality care and up-to-date treatments. We strive to ensure our patients have access to the best in imaging and surgical care through our partnership with Northeast Georgia Medical Center.
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