A Brief Background On Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis

ALS Defined

When someone is diagnosed with ALS, short for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, it can be such a devastating event in his life. Devastation is actually a normal emotion since one can never really expect what will happen next.


ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a condition that primarily affects a person’s motor neurons. Motor neurons are nerves that pass through the brain and spinal cord that send impulses to one’s muscles to command movement, speech, breathing, and other motor activities. Now, you can just imagine what would happen if these motor neurons were damaged. Consequently, one will have difficulty doing those activities, including so many more, when he is afflicted with ALS.

Source: flickr.com

According to statistics, most individuals develop ALS around the 40 to 70 age range, although it has been seen in individuals between the 20s and 30s. More than 5000 Americans suffer from the disease annually (and 15 new cases daily). Additionally, the ALS Care Database revealed that 60% of these Americans are men, and 93% are Caucasian. Finally, men are more affected than women.


Causes Of ALS And Its Types

According to Dr. David Wishart’s, PhD., discussion on ALS, he stated that “amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) is caused by the breakdown of upper and lower motor neurons leading to the progressive weakness and atrophy of muscle, often resulting in respiratory failure and death within a few years of diagnosis. It is the most common form of Motor Neuron Disease (MND), yet we still do not have any effective treatments, mostly due to our lack of a unifying theory of disease pathogenesis.”

There is no known exact cause for the development of ALS. However, it has been categorized into sporadic and familial.

Familial ALS is said to be inherited, which composes about 5-10% of ALS cases. This means that a son or daughter of an individual with the disease has a 50% chance of having the disease. Some studies have shown that familial ALS may be genetic, but none of these studies have sufficient evidence. Also, in some rare instances, it can affect teenagers. In one study, Dr. Alice Vajda, PhD., expounds “familial forms of the condition are often characterized by reduced penetrance and genetic pleiotropy, and there is evidence of both oligogenic and polygenic inheritance in apparently sporadic disease. In addition, ancestral origin is important, with variation in the frequency of ALS genes in different patient populations”

Source: af.mil

Sporadic ALS happens in a random manner, and this composes 90-95% of cases. Similarly, there is no known cause or factor. However, Dr. Roberto Sica , PhD and co-authors, discovered that “already, some authors have stepped into that trail by looking preferentially to changes occurring within the astrocytes, describing abnormalities of their cytoskeleton proteins as a characteristic feature of both sporadic and familial forms of the disease.”

Aside from these, other probable causes of the disease include but are not limited to:

  • Chemical imbalance. In individuals with ALS, the chemical glutamate has been seen to be in high quantities.
  • Abnormal immune responses. The disease may cause autoimmunity, wherein one’s immune system attacks its own normal nerve cells.
  • Abnormal protein processing. When the normal process of handling proteins is disrupted, an accumulation of proteins occurs, damaging the nerve cells.
  • Environmental factors. According to a past study, people who worked in the military during the 1991 Gulf war were seen to have developed ALS compared to military men who were assigned somewhere else. Other risk factors include overexertion or too much exercise, exposure to toxic agricultural chemicals, and electrical and mechanical trauma.


Treatment For ALS

Sadly, up to this day, there is no known cure for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. The current projection is that 50% of people afflicted with the disease live for about three or more years after having been diagnosed, 20% reach up to five years, and a smaller percentage of about 10% have been seen to live for over ten years.

Source: flickr.com

So what does a person with ALS expect? The best move he can make is to first seek the help of his primary physician or specialist, who will then help him prepare himself for what he should do to manage comfortably. A healthcare team is assigned to him, which may include a speech therapist, a physical therapist, an occupational therapist, a dietitian, and a pulmonary specialist. A psychiatrist will also help him a great deal in guiding him into coping and managing his emotions and prevent stress, depression, and anxiety.


Medications for treating nerve damage and other abnormalities will most likely be prescribed by the neurologist.


Bottom Line

If you or someone you know is suffering from ALS, do reach out to a support group that can help you learn more about your disease. It will be easier once you get to know more from people who have more experience than you. Practice how to live life with ALS, and when you find meaning in it, you can then share what you learned to others who are suffering as well.

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