ALS, short form for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is a progressive nervous system ailment affecting your motor neurons or nerve cells that control our voluntary movements. It is also called Lou Gehrig's disease, named after the baseball player who was diagnosed with this disease in the 19th century. The upper motor neurons are nerve cells of the brain and the lower motor neurons are nerve cells of the spinal cord. The primary responsibility of nerve cells is sending messages from your brain to your spinal cord and then to your muscles, signalling them to act. When the disease strikes, motor neurons in your brain and spinal cord break down and die. As your muscles get weaker, walking, talking, and breathing makes it difficult. ALS gets worse over time with the brain’s inability to send messages to the muscles to function effectively. This condition is called atrophy. In time, the muscles are unable to function completely. Eventually, the patient tends to lose control of their diaphragm and is unable to breathe on its own. Consequently, ALS becomes fatal.
Main Types Of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis
There are two types of ALS:
Sporadic ALS: As the name suggests, the occurrence is sudden and unclear and can happen at any age. It is the most common form of ALS.
Familial ALS: Running in families, parents pass the faulty gene to their children. Ideally, if one parent has an ALS gene, the child will have more than a fifty percent chance of getting ALS.
What Causes ALS?
While the exact causes of motor neurons dying with ALS are unknown, Gene changes, or mutations, are the cause behind most cases of ALS. More than 12 different genetic changes have been linked to ALS. Other possible causes are:
Immune System Imbalances:
A healthy immune system protects the body against bacteria and viruses. Microglia are the immune cells present in the brain that destroy unwanted bacteria and pathogens. With ALS, microglia tend to destroy healthy motor neurons also. This is where the muscles start to get the wrong messages.
The environment plays a role in ALS development. People who come into contact with specific pathogens or chemicals are more likely to get the disease. Workers of some chemical factory or people who work in an environment that is unfamiliar to our immune system might be a cause of triggering this ailment.
What are the Symptoms of ALS?
Signs and Symptoms of ALS include:
- Cramping of muscles
- Involuntary muscle movement
- Impaired use of the arms and legs
- Weakness and fatigue
- Uncontrollable bouts of laughing or crying
- Slurred speech
- Shortness of breath
- Dropping things
- Difficulty breathing and swallowing
Diagnostic procedures for ALS may include:
- Laboratory tests - including blood and urine studies and thyroid functioning tests
- Cerebral spinal tap: procedure used to make an evaluation or diagnosis by examining the fluid withdrawn from the spinal column.
- MRI: A non-invasive technique, MRI produces a sharp, two-dimensional view of the brain and spinal cord.
- EMG: It is done by inserting electrodes into the muscle or placing on the skin overlying a muscle or muscle group for recording electrical activity and muscle response.
Currently, there is no treatment to reverse this nervous system ailment that causes damage to motor neurons. Most treatments for ALS involve managing the symptoms of the disease. Physical therapy, exercise, and nutritional supplements are advised besides some drugs administered through intravenous infusion, which have shown to reduce improvement in managing daily activities.