Living with ALS Disease

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What does ALS stand for? The scientific name of the condition is amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, however, it is commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Lou Gehrig was a famous, American baseball player in the 1950’s who contracted the disease and subsequently brought national attention to ALS Disease and its complications.

What Is Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis

To accurately define amyotrophic lateral sclerosis one must understand the nervous system and how it functions. ALS disease affects cells in both the spinal cord and the nerves throughout the body. The condition causes the degeneration of motor nerves that affect movement throughout the body. As the nerves begin to deteriorate and slowly die, the muscles weaken and movement is no longer possible without physical assistance. Eventually the disease begins to affect the lungs and heart, resulting in the need for alternative methods of life support.

Many people misunderstand the amyotrophic lateral sclerosis definition and confuse it with conditions like multiple sclerosis or muscular dystrophy. While they are quite similar in some respects, they are very different in others.To more fully understand what ALS really is, you should consult a medical professional, especially if you are experiencing some of the common symptoms of the disease.

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Causes

Each individual case is different, however, there are a few causes that generally present themselves. ALS disease causes may include:

  • In approximately 5 to 10% of reported cases, the disease is inherited
  • Chemical imbalance
  • Disorganized or disrupted immune response
  • Gene mutation
  • The body’s inability to handle specific proteins

Doctors are still uncertain about what causes ALS disease. While the above causes are still being researched, doctors are still unable to rule them out in each, individual case.

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Symptoms

The earliest signs are often attributed to clumsiness until they begin to be more pronounced. A few of the most common ALS disease symptoms begin to appear as the condition continues to advance. They include:

  • Tripping or dragging one or both feet, making walking difficult
  • Weakness in the extremities, including hands, wrists, feet and ankles
  • Inability to maintain good posture or hold your head erect
  • Difficult swallowing
  • Slurring your speech
  • Cramping and twitching of various muscles, including those of the face, mouth, eyes, arms and shoulders

People who are extremely active may begin to question their clumsiness earlier than one who is more sedentary. The condition will progress differently in each person. Many claim that making changes in lifestyle can slow or even halt the progression of the disease.

ALS is completely unique with each patient it affects. Athletes like Lou Gehrig can be brought down in the prime of their life with little or no warning. With Gehrig the time between his diagnosis and his death was a few days short of two years. He had minor symptoms in 1938 as the disease began to present itself, but by the end of 1940, he was almost totally incapacitated. Stephen Hawking and Jason Becker are at the other end of the spectrum. Diagnosed 49 and 25 years ago, respectively, both men have far outlived there original diagnoses.

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Prognosis

Motor neurons are the only ones affected by ALS. A person’s sensory organs are normally left intact, as well as other areas of the body, such as the bladder. Because of the amount of motor neurons in the heart and lungs, when the disease progresses to the point where those organs are affected, alternative forms of life support are required to keep the body alive.

The condition progresses slowly, sometimes taking years to affect the entire body. World renown scientist, Stephen Hawking,was diagnosed with the condition almost 50 years ago, but with proper medical care is well on his way to see his 70th birthday. Although he has been on life support for several years, he is able to communicate through a “voice box” that he manipulates with a muscle in his cheek.

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Treatment

Although there is no known ALS disease treatment that can keep the degeneration from occurring, there are preventative measures that are being used to prolong quality of life for as long as possible. Riluzole is a medication being used to protect nerve endings from the effects of too much glutamate in the system. It has been proven to work, but in the end, only proves to slow ALS disease progression.

Physical therapy and a diet full of naturally occurring nutrients can also help to slow the progression of the disease. Almost 30 years ago, an aspiring musician named Jason Becker began to experience a slight drag with one of his feet. His immediate ALS diagnosis helped to prolong his quality of life. Today, although confined to a wheelchair and life support systems, he continues to write and produce music. He is a perfect example of doctors having no real idea of what an ALS disease life expectancy is. Method of treatment, early diagnosis and a person’s will to survive can prove to be life sustaining.

ALS Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Disease Facts

The ALS disease facts are:

  • ALS is a degenerative that attacks and kills motor neuron cells
  • ALS affects only motor neuron cells
  • ALS is not contagious
  • ALS does not cause pain or discomfort
  • ALS patients are commonly given from three to five years to live depending on how far advanced the disease is when it is diagnosed
  • Doctors do not accurately know what causes ALS
  • There is no known cure for ALS
  • Every patient is unique and not all people react the same to treatment
  • On average, 15 people are diagnosed with ALS each day
  • Each year, ALS kills 1 out of every 50,000 people
  • ALS can target anyone, race, gender, nationality and ethnicity do not matter
  • An ALS patient retains their mental faculties and are able to make decisions pertaining to their own care
  • ALS patients can and do survive long past the initial prognosis

Lou Gehrig

Henry Louis Gehrig, better known simply as Lou, was a American baseball player. He played 17 years for the New York Yankees until his career was cut short by a mysterious illness that robbed him of his life at the age 38. He was a skilled hitter and played first base. Lou was extremely active and considered to be one of the best baseball players of his time.

Gehrig was one of the best players of his time until he began to notice small changes in his movements throughout the 1938 baseball season. During the 1939 season, Gehrig’s statistics had dropped significantly. His coordination was beginning to fail and he could no longer play at the level he knew he should be capable of. He finally left the game and went to the Mayo Clinic to be tested. He received the diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis on his 36th birthday. Shortly after the diagnosis, Gehrig retired from the game.

His condition steadily worsened. He had difficulty swallowing and speaking. Within a few months he could no longer walk. The disease quickly ran its course and on June 2, 1941, Lou Gehrig succumbed to the dread disease. Prior to Gehrig’s illness few people had heard of the disease and those who had heard of it, barely understood what it was capable of. Because of his popularity, however, Gehrig’s fans immediately took notice and the disease was soon referred to as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

While there is no known cause or cure for ALS, it does not mean the disease cannot be beaten. New advancements and treatments are being made available with each passing year. Individuals who are diagnosed with the disease have their work cut out for them. The severity of the disease when its diagnosed and the speed with which it progresses are the two most common factors when it comes to life expectancy. The disease does not discriminate and it seems to treat every patient differently. Close monitoring and adequate healthcare are two effective ways to manage the disease.

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