Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a rapid, progressive and fatal motor neuron disease. If stricken with this “unknown cause nor cure” disorder, your nerve cells controlling voluntary muscles degenerate and die.
The consequence of this nerve death is that no signal is generated to your voluntary muscles to cause movement, and these muscles weaken, atrophy and fasciculate. In time, your brain’s ability to control any voluntary muscles is gone.
Once Lou Gehrig’s disease affects your diaphragm and chest wall muscles, you cannot breath and this respiratory failure is what commonly causes death within 3-5 years. In rare cases, debilitated survival is seen for 10+ years.
On the inception of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, mild muscle control issues may cause often ignored symptoms like:
- writing problems
- difficulty walking
- running gait change
- chewing, swallowing difficulties
- muscle weakness ~ arms, legs
- speech impaired ~ slurred, nasal
- muscle twitching, cramping, stiffness
As ALS motor neuron disease progresses, you lose all strength to point that you are unable to move.
The parts of your body that will be initially affected by this terminal disease’s onslaught is anyone’s guess. Could start in one or both legs, one or both arms, even your mouth muscles. What is known is that this muscle weakness and atrophy will spread.
The assault of Lou Gehrig’s disease usually randomly hits between age 40-60, no clear risk factors have been discovered. Statistics show that more men than women are afflicted, and less 10% via inherited genes.
Presently no cure for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, but there are medications to relieve symptoms and potentially prolong your life. ALS does not affect your ability to think, see, smell, taste, hear nor recognize a touch.
Diagnosing Lou Gehrig’s disease is essentially a careful process of elimination, because other treatable diseases may be the cause for some of your symptoms. Other diseases, conditions or disorders with some mimicking symptoms include:
- Lyme disease
- multiple sclerosis
- spinal cord tumor
- cervical spondylosis
- post polio syndrome
- peripheral neuropathy
- herniated cervical disk
- spinal muscular atrophy
- human T-cell leukemia virus
- multifocal motor neuropathy
- human immunodeficiency virus
This is one of those diseases wherein a second neurological opinion would be prudent.
Research is tenaciously ongoing to find the cause for this uncontrollable muscle wasting disease. A couple of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis causing theories being looked at are:
- dietary deficiency
- mutation of a powerful antioxidant
- too high levels of glutamate in serum, spinal fluid
- environmental factors ~ exposure to toxic, infectious agents
- autoimmune responses that impair muscle function or interfere with signal transmission
As for now, there is insufficient evidence that any of these factors are a cause for Lou Gehrig’s.
Quality of life support during ALS progression is extensively available. Ask your treating physician for programs available in your neck of the woods.
Personal Note: My father wasted away from this disease in a truly dignified manner. He remained hopeful throughout his remaining year and a half from diagnosis to death. I was grateful that he never gave up, instead charged on with each labored breath. This final lesson was by far his greatest gift.