1. What is ALS?
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), sometimes called Lou Gehrig's disease, is a progressive neurological disease that attacks the nerve cells that control voluntary muscles - those we can control such as those in the arms, legs and face. ALS leads to weakness and a wide range of disabilities. In time, all of the muscles under voluntary control are compromised, and individuals will eventually have neither the strength nor ability to move their arms, legs and body. When muscles in the diaphragm and chest wall fail, patients lost the ability to breathe without ventilator support.
2. What are the symptoms of ALS?
Earliest signs of ALS include fasciculations (twitches), cramps, tight and stiff muscles, weakness in the muscles of a leg or arm, slurred speech or problems chewing or swallowing. "Limb onset" is a term used to describe symptoms that begin in the arms or legs. "Bulbar onset" is used to indicate symptoms that first occur as speech problems. No matter what part of the body is first attacked by ALS, muscle weakness and failure affect other parts of the body as the disease spreads.
3. What causes ALS?
The cause of ALS is unknown.
4. Who gets ALS?
More than 12,000 people in the U.S. have a definite diagnosis of ALS, for a prevalence of 3.9 cases per 100,000 persons in the U.S. general population, according to a report on data from the National ALS Registry. ALS is one of the most common neuromuscular diseases worldwide, and people of all races and ethnic backgrounds are affected.
5. What is the treatment for ALS?
There is currently no cure for ALS, however, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of Rilutek, the first drug treatment for the disease, in 1995. Treatment is generally aimed at relieving symptoms and enhancing the quality of life of those with the disease. These initiatives may include prescriptions for drugs to reduce or improve various effects of the disease, physical therapy, special equipment, gentle exercise of unaffected muscles, speech therapy and nutritional support.
6. What is the prognosis for patients with ALS?
Although approximately one in ten ALS patients survives for a decade or more with the disease, most people with ALS die due to resiratory failure, typically within three to five years for the onset of symptoms.