Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (Lou Gherig\'s Disease)


Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis is a deadly disease of the nervous system.
Also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, ALS at this time affects 25,000 people in
the U.S. today. One in 50,000 people will be affected in any one year. The
average age for diagnosis of ALS is between 30 and 70, although there have been
cases of teenagers contracting it.The average life span after diagnosis are
three to 10 years, although 20 percent of those affected will outlive their
prognosis by a number of years. ALS affects more men than women. Approximately
60 percent of those affected are male, 40 percent are female.

Little is known about the exact cause of ALS at this time, although it
can be traced back to chromosome 21. The defect is inherited as an autosmal
dominant trait. Other theories such as metal poisons, viral infections, even
aging have been considered. ALS attacks the motor neurons in your nervous
system that control your muscles. Your motor neurons slowly deteriorate, causing
your muscles to not receive information from your brain. Your muscles then
become useless and begin to deteriorate.

Symptoms of ALS include:
Tripping and falling
Loss of motor control in hands and arms
Difficulty speaking and swallowing or difficulty breathing
Persistent fatigue
Twitching and cramping, sometimes severely

As ALS progresses, all voluntary muscles become useless. The patient
cannot eat, breathe or communicate with others. Total life support may be the
only thing keeping them alive. ALS can lead to total paralysis.

Although there is no cure, medications such as siazepam can assist with
controlling spasms and muscle cramps and saliva. Siazepam can also help control
muscle twitching. Physical therapy is important for patients with ALS to
maintain flexibility in joints and to prevent contractures, or fixations of
muscles.

Diagnosis of ALS is difficult, since there is no clinical or laboratory
test to identify it. Diagnosis is done through careful examination of a patient’
s history, neurological testing, and electromyograms.

Researchers have been studying whether a defective metabolism of
glutamate, an amino acid, is detrimental to the nerve cells in the muscles of
ALS patients. Scientists are trying to determine whether they can prevent the
toxic effects of glutamate. Other scientists are studying Threostat, which may
increase the amino acid called glycine, which might neutralize glutamate found
in ALS patients.

ALS and Muscular Dystrophy are commonly confused due to their similar
symptoms. The main difference is that ALS affects the nervous system, whereas
Muscular dystrophy affects the muscle.


Sources

"ALS." Internet site. Post date: June 1995.

Hopkins, Harold. "Amyotrophic Latral Sclerosis." CD-ROM: Grolier Encyclopedia.
1995 ed.

Williams, D. B. "Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis." Mayo Clinic Proc. Jan. 1991.
Found on CD-ROM: The Family Doctor.

Category: Science