ALS symptoms

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease – is a neurological disease which attacks the motor neurons causing irrevocable damage in the ability to control voluntary muscle movement of the body. It progresses differently amongst individual patients, but has shown a common trait recently – indicating a rapid increase in the degeneration of a selected group of nerve cells and selected pathways in the brain and spinal cord. As the disease progresses throughout the body, more and more muscles stop responding and results in paralysis over a period of time. Since heart is not controlled by any voluntary muscle, it remains unaffected. While the heart generally remains unaffected by ALS, breathing on the other hand can be seriously affected. Breathing is controlled by the chest muscles and most ALS patients face fatal consequences when the lung loses the ability to pump out enough carbon dioxide from the body. Furthermore in later stages, the patients generally need to use ventilation support for survival, as collateral risk of pneumonia increases.

While ALS is not contagious, intensive research has proven the disorder to result in very high casualty rates – with studies showing that approximately 20% of the patients live 10 years or more, and the rest passing away within the first 2 to 5 years. Although in some rare cases, ALS is known to remit or halt its’ progress completely. Scrutinized researches are still being conducted in the field of genetic predispositions, to better understand the patients affected with ALS and bring out a complete cure.

Initial symptoms of ALS can greatly vary from person to person, as the affected muscles for individual patients are not usually identical. Some patients have trouble lifting while others can just trip over on the edge of a carpet. To show the diversity in symptoms, according to the above scenario – patient A is having problems controlling the hand muscle to lift whereas the other patient is having problem with vision, since the eye muscles are not contracting back and forth – while focusing at a distant and near objects simultaneously. A third kind of patient exists, who can have problems with their vocal cord and result in slurred speech.

The most obvious symptom for ALS is generally the weakening of muscles, found in approximately 60% of the patients. The body parts affected by ALS will eventually determine where the symptoms are most evident; and the diversity in the affected muscles might result in one patient losing total control of the hands, while others will eventually start having problems in their legs. The patients will generally start losing total control in manual dexterity – which can result in simple household tasks to seem impossible – like buttoning a shirt, opening a door, cutting, writing etc. Regardless of the diversity of the initial symptoms, eventually the disease takes over the whole body, affecting different muscles. This will lead to a rapid increase in problems suffered by the patients, with actions like swallowing, moving or even speaking and forming a word – would seem impossible. The inability to swallow will lead to choking and might result in fatal consequences if not administered properly. The long term effects get worse when patients start to feel anxious and depressed by their gradual paralysis. Some patients even experience memory loss and have troubles in making decisions.

Patients who have damaged the upper motor neurons in a higher extent compared to that of the lower motor neurons will be more susceptible to outbursts of uncontrollable periods of laughing or crying. Such cases are sometimes cured by taking antidepressant pills.

To sum it up, the noted symptoms once again, are:

  • Twitching and cramping of muscles, in hands and feet
  • Chewing or swallowing difficulty
  • Unable to weight lifts or other daily works
  • Falling or tripping and visual impairment
  • Unable to breath properly
  • Slurred speech and hard time forming words to communicate
  • Uncontrollable periods of laughing or crying (non-emotional)
Last updated on Aug 1st, 2010 and filed under Neurological Disorders. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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