Ameotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) sometimes known as ‘Lou Gehrig’s Disease’ is a disease that leads to progressive wasting of neurons. It is referred to as Lou Gehrig after one of America’s greatest baseball players Lou Gehrig who was diagnosed with the disease. It tempers with the nerve network within the brain and those of the spinal cord. Being progressive, the affected motor neurons (normally charged with the sending of impulses from the brain to the spinal cord and then the muscles and vice versa) eventually die incapacitating the brain from having any control over the affected muscles. This eventually leads to paralysis in advanced stages of the disease (Mitsumoto 12).
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So far, the exact cause of this disease has not been identified. Studies are still being carried out to ascertain the real cause. However, some researchers have explained that the disease comes as a result of environmental or genetic reasons. According to data, ninety percent of the cases of this disease are usually not acquired from their parents. This is referred to as ‘sporadic ALS.’ However, ten percent of the cases are reported to have been transferred to children from parents. These cases are known as ‘Familial ALS’ (FALS). Comparatively, the symptoms of ALS usually occur earlier in FALS cases than in sporadic ALS. Grandchildren from a child who never inherited the gene will automatically not inherit it. Furthermore, the fact that one inherits the gene of mutation does not guarantee that the person will develop the ALS symptoms (Mitsumoto 26).
ALS is prevalent in people born from parents with the ALS. However, it has also been noted that ALS is more prevalent in people whose age is between the forth and fifth decade. Before attaining the age of six decades, people of the male gender are more likely to develop ALS than their female counterparts. Approximately thirty thousand Americans have ALS at all times. Of the mentioned number, sixty percent are men. In addition, ninety-three percent of the total cases are Caucasians. Although not yet clarified, studies are still being carried out to ascertain the role of smoking and high exposure to lead in the development of ALS. There are also studies pointing that ex-military men are at a higher risk of attaining ALS. The cause is not clearly specified but could be high exposure to lead and other chemicals, injuries, and finally extreme exertion (Strong 32).
ALS’ initial symptoms sometimes become so slight that most people barely recognize them (Pollin & Golant 49). Furthermore, different people experience different initial symptoms. However, the most commonly experienced symptoms include weakened muscles on limbs and other parts of the body. This includes parts like hands, legs, muscles of the throat including swallowing and breathing muscles and breathing muscles. This results in cases of patients tripping over very small objects like the edge of a carpet. Other people experience weakened muscles of speech. In this case, the person exhibits a slurred speech. For those with weakened muscles of the arms and hands, they have trouble lifting objects. Another notable symptom of ALS is the constant experiencing abnormal fatigue. This could be experienced in the hands, legs, or in some cases both.
Another main symptom of ALS is experiencing cramping and twitching of muscles time after time. In some cases, the disease might be characterized by the patient crying laughing uncontrollably for some period of time. In later stages of the disease, the patient ends up with impaired use of hands and legs. In addition, swallowing and sometimes breathing become difficult for the patient. At advanced stages of the disease, the whole trunk of the body is subjected to weakened muscles or sometimes a totally paralyzed body. In later stages, weakened breathing muscles lead to a complete inability to breath causing the patient to permanently stay on ventilatory support. The disease also leads to thinned limbs due to their inability to function and thus atrophying.
Notably, ALS exhibits variations not only in the initial symptoms but also in the rate of progression after the initial symptoms (Strong 56). There are even cases where the patient experiences zero progress. This is however rare. Averagely, people only live for three years in excess after the detection of symptoms. However, there is a slim chance of about ten percent who can survive for a decade or more.
So far, a cure for the disease has not been developed. In most cases, available medications aim at slowing the process of degradation (Bolen 34). The most commonly used drug and also the only one approved by the Food and Drug Administration is riluzole also known as rilutek. This drug plays the role of slowing the progression of the disease by controlling the level of glutamate, a chemical compound in the brain that is usually found in excess within the brains of people suffering from ALS. Medications can also be provided to alleviate other symptoms like constipation, muscle cramps, excessive salivation, pain, uncontrolled laughing or crying, et cetera. Besides medication, there are other support is provided in order to minimize likely complications and also making a patient independent. It is usually advisable that a patient diagnosed with this disease seeks multiple and integrated attention.
This is especially true considering that the disease is characterized by social, physical, and mental complications. There is therefore need for specialists in social wellbeing, specialists in control and management of the physical challenges and also specialists in mental health to assist the patient in managing his mental health. There are also therapies which include breathing therapy which is aimed at addressing the issue of difficulty in breathing which results from weakened breathing muscles, physical therapy aimed at dealing with pain and issues of mobility, occupational therapy that addresses weaknesses of the arms and hands, speech therapy to deal with the impaired speech production and projection resulting from weakened muscles of speech and psychological and social therapies that are aimed at offering mental and emotional wellbeing to the patient (Pollin & Golant 49).
In conclusion, the real cause for ALS has not been conclusively determined. Equally, a treatment has not been developed so far. However, care and management of ALS includes trying to improve the independence of the patient while at the same time ensuring that his or her social and mental statuses are stable. On the other hand, medication is given to ensure that the progress of degeneration is reduced to the slowest level possible. Other medications are also provided to deal with specific problems that are associated with the disease. All these are done to ensure that the patients are able to live independently and also to ensure their survival for the longest possible period of time.
Bolen, Jean. Close to the Bone: Life Threatening Illness and Search for Meaning. Indiana: Touchstone books, 1998. Print.
Mitsumoto, Hiroshi. Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis: A Guide for Patients and Families. 3rd ed. New York: Demos Medical Publishing, 2009. Print.
Pollin, Irene and Susan Golant. Taking Charge: Overcoming the Challenges of Long Term Illness. New York: Times Books, 1994. Print.
Strong, Maggie. Mainstay: The Well-Spouse of the Chronically III. Bradford Books, 1997. Print.