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    Brianna Shaw, MSP
  • on Nov 30, 2018 |

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a motor neuron disease that causes dysfunction in the nerves that control muscle movement in the body. This leads to muscle weakness and changes how the body works and moves. In later stages, this disease affects the nerves that control breathing which can be fatal.

Most people who have ALS live 3-5 years after they first experience symptoms but some people live longer. As ALS progresses, cells degenerate and die and the brain can no longer control voluntary movement as muscles weaken and waste away.

It is not clear to what causes ALS, but there are different types in relation to their signs and symptoms and whether or not there is a clear genetic association. ALS can be sporadic or familial:

Sporadic ALS- this occurs randomly and accounts for 90-95% of cases. There is no risk factors or cause.

Familial ALS- this type is inherited. A child of a person who has ALS has a 50% chance of developing the disease. Researchers are still investigating which genes are involved.

Other causes of ALS can be:

-The immune system may attack some of the body’s cells, killing the nerve cells.

-Having high levels of glutamate, which is known to be toxic to nerve cells.

-Proteins not being processed correctly by nerve cells, potentially causing the nerve cells to accumulate and die.

-Mechanical or electrical trauma

-High levels of heavy metals

-High levels of agricultural chemicals

-high levels of exercise

-military service

The signs and symptoms usually appear in the late 50’s but it can happen at other ages as well. In early stages symptoms might be barely noticeable, but becomes more prominent over time and spreads to all parts of the body in all cases.

Common signs and symptoms include:

-Difficulty doing daily activities like walking

-Increased clumsiness

-Difficulty breathing and swallowing



-Weakness in the feet, ankles, legs, and hands

-Slurred speech or difficulty talking

-Cognitive changes

-Uncontrolled outbursts of laughing or crying

-Cramps or twitching in the arms or shoulders

There is no cure for ALS so treatments are used to alleviate symptoms and slow the rate of progression. Many medications are used to slow the progression of ALS, physical therapy is used to help people with ALS manage pain and mobility issues, occupational therapy helps patients maintain independence longer, breathing therapy is used when the respiratory muscles get weaker, speech therapy helps by teaching patients adaptive techniques, and nutritional support is important to advise about preparing nutrient rich meals that are easier for people with ALS to swallow.

ALS is a difficult disease to live with but it is very important to keep social contact with friends and family and people who will give you the love and support you need in this time. Try to make your life easier by having a bag full of thing you will need when you go out, make adjustments in your home to make it more accessible for you. Treatments can be very expensive so researching financial help and getting a disability card for your car can be a benefit to you and your family. Arrange for a family member, friend or caregiver to come and stay with you to help you care for yourself and make sure you are getting everything you need.