ALS Description

Amyotropic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)

Definition: Disease of the nerve cells (motor neurons) in the brain and spinal cord that control voluntary muscle movement. The motor neurons slowly die, so they no longer send messages to the muscles to move, however, sensation (feeling) remains intact.

About ten percent of ALS cases are hereditary. The other ninety percent are idiopathic (unknown).

Earlier Symptoms:

  • Weakness of legs, feet or ankles
  • Hand weakness or clumsiness
  • Slurring of speech
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Difficulty lifting front part of foot and toes
  • Muscle cramps and twitching

As the disease progresses, chewing, swallowing, speech and breathing are affected. When the muscles of breathing are affected, the patient may choose to be trached and vented.

The most common cause of death in an ALS patient is respiratory failure, usually occurring within 3-5 years of first symptoms.

Treatment: Riluzole (Rilutek) is the only drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration for slowing the progression of ALS. The drug may slow the disease process in some patients. It may prolong survival for approximately 2 months.

Side Effects include: Nausea, vomiting, dizziness, weakness, coughing and may cause liver problems. Riluzole may not be effective for some patients.

Other medications and treatments are used to treat symptoms.