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How ALS manifests itself

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a disease characterized by progressive motor neurons degeneration. Motor neurons are nerve cells responsible for movements. Located in the brain and the spinal cord, they have axons reaching different group of muscles. To enable movements, motor neurons send impulses to muscle fibers.

The disease affects nerves responsible for voluntary movements (moving of a leg or an arm, etc.) and does not involve involuntary ones (heart beating, digestion, etc.). During the course of disease, motor neurons degenerate until they die. After that, the brain cannot anymore initiate and control voluntary muscle movements. The lack of the signals for muscle movements results in the atrophy of the latter. This may lead to total paralysis of the patients at the late disease stages.

ALS early symptoms may not be paid attention at as they consist mostly of slight weakening of muscles. During the course of disease symptoms develop and may include:
  • weakening of muscles in the extremities (hands, arms, legs) or muscles responsible for breathing, swallowing, and talking;
  • cramping and twitching (fasciculation) of muscles, the most affected being those of feet and hands;
  • problems in arms and legs use;
  • speech difficulties;
  • breathing and swallowing difficulties at the later stages.
ALS onset can vary from patient to patient. One may have slurred speech while another may easily trip. Symptoms can begin within different muscle groups (extremities, speech or swallowing muscles) and include dropping things, tripping, fatigue in the extremities, periods of uncontrollable laughter or crying. At initial stages, muscle weakness is experienced by 60% of the patients.

ALS symptoms also vary from one patient to another, but progressive muscle weakening and paralysis are among the most common. As the muscle weakening affects trunk of the body, the patients begin experience problems with speaking, breathing, chewing, and swallowing. With the breathing muscles affected, patients need permanent ventilatory support. However, the disease does not affect the senses and bladder and eyes muscles.

Like the early symptoms, the disease progress rate and progression patterns may also vary among people. On average, people with ALS live 3 to 5 years, but many live ten or even more years. Rarely ALS progress may halt or the disease may remit, and there are no scientific explanations of that.

The cure for ALS does not exist. For ALS treatment, the drug rizolute is used, which slows down the disease progression. Stem cell treatment of ALS is also practiced.