Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), often referred to as “The Disease of Lou Gehrig” it is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that can affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. The motor neurons can reach from the brain to the spinal cord and from the spinal cord to the muscles throughout the body.
At the onset of ALS the symptoms may be so slight that they are frequently overlooked. In regard to the appearance of symptoms and the progression of the illness, courses of the disease can may include the following:
♦ muscle weakness in one or more of the following: arms, hands, legs or the muscles of speech, swallowing or breathing
♦ twitching (fasciculation) and cramping of muscles, especially those in the feet and hands
♦ impairment of the use of the legs and arms
“a thick speech” and the difficulty in projecting the voice
♦ in more advanced stages, the shortness of breathing , difficulty in breathing and swallowing
The initial symptoms of ALS can be quite varied in different people. Some person may experience tripping over carpet edges, some another person may have trouble lifting and a third person’s early symptom may be slurred speech. The regular rate at which ALS progresses can be quite variable from one person to another. The mean survival time with ALS is three to five years, some people live five, ten or more years. And in a small number of people, ALS is known to remit or halt its progression, although there is no or none scientific understanding as to how and why this happens. The symptoms can begin in the muscles of speech, swallowing or in the arms, hands, legs or feet. Not all people with ALS experience the same symptoms or the same sequences or patterns of progression. But the progressive muscle weakness and paralysis are universally experienced.
Muscle weakness is a hallmark initial sign in ALS, occurring in approximately 60% of patients. The early symptoms can vary with each individual, but this usually include tripping, dropping things, abnormal fatigue of the legs or arms, slurred speech, muscle cramps and twitches and/or uncontrollable periods of laughing or crying.
The feet and hands may be affected first, causing difficulty in lifting, walking or using the hands for the activities of daily living such as dressing, washing and buttoning clothes.
As the weakening and paralysis continue to spread to the muscles of the trunk of the body the disease, eventually affects chewing, swallowing, speech and breathing. When the breathing muscles become affected, ultimately the patient will need a permanent ventilatory support in order to survive.
Since ALS attacks only motor neurons, the sense of touch, hearing, sight, taste and smell are not affected. For many people, muscles of the eyes and bladder are generally not affected.