What is ALS – Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis?

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Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis is a name given to a group of neurological diseases. It is also known as  Lou Gehrig’s disease and motor neuron disease (MND). Although most commonly called ALS.

What is ALS?

ALS is a disease of the nervous system that controls voluntary muscle movement. This causes gradual degeneration and death of motor neurons. These neurons send messages to voluntary muscles.

These muscles are responsible for acts like chewing, walking, breathing and talking. ALS sufferer on later stages can not control their voluntary muscles.

Upper motor neurons send messages to motor neurons in the spinal cord and to lower motor neurons. From the spinal cord and lower motor neuron, they send the messages to a particular muscle or muscles.

However, in ALS both upper and lower motor neurons degenerate and die and that stops the vital communication between the brain and voluntary muscles.

This disease usually starts around the age of 60 and in inherited cases, around the age of 50. Though there are cases where the disease starts at a pretty young age. Initially, ALS sufferer will feel their muscles weaken. Then they will start to twitch and gradually, the brain loses all its ability to function voluntary muscles.

Signs and symptoms:

As ALS is a disease of the nervous system that destroys the functioning of both upper and lower neuron. Initial symptoms depend on which neuron gets affected first. However, some initial common symptoms are:

  • muscle weakness, one may find hard to do tasks like unbuttoning shirt.
  • trouble swallowing or breathing.
  • cramping, or stiffness of affected muscles.
  • over time difficulty in walking, forming words.
  • Difficulty in chewing and swallowing makes eating very difficult.

Although, on later stages rate and order of symptoms differ from case to case, but some common ones are:

  • inability to walk
  • inability to talk
  • losing the ability to breathe on their own
  • losing the ability to cough

Although respiratory support can ease problems with breathing and prolong survival, it does not affect the progression of Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.


Cause for 90-95% cases is not known. However, it is believed that in 5-10% cases, genetic factor plays an important role.

  • Genetics: Mutation in genes are widely responsible for ALS. Many detailed studies have been done till date that approves the fact that mutation like SOD1, D90A-SOD1 any many other plays a big role in ALS.
  • Head injury: While moderate to severe traumatic brain injury is a risk for ALS, it is unclear if mild traumatic brain injury increases rates.
  • Environmental factor: A researcher study suggested that exposure to toxins during warfare, or strenuous physical activity, are possible reasons for why some veterans and athletes may be at increased risk of developing ALS. Although there is no to be sure study or result that can approve this risk factor.

Treatment :

No such treatment has been developed yet that can completely cure ALS or can reserve the physical damage of the body. Although, medical science has some medications and therapies that can prolong life to a certain level. And can even ease one’s life.

Therapies include:

  • Breathing support.
  • Physical therapy.
  • Occupational therapy.
  • Speech-language pathologist.

Other than this, proper nutrition is very important.

Facts related to ALS:

  • About 10% survive longer than 10 years.
  • Life expectancy of a person with ALS averages about two to five years.
  • Around half of the people with ALS die within 30 months of their symptoms beginning.
  • In Europe and the United States, the disease affects about two people per 100,000 per year.
  • So far, food and drug administration (US) has approved only one drug that can prolong the life of survival by approximately two or three months.

Despite the fact that this is such a deadly disease, physicist Stephen Hawking has been surviving since 1963. Whereas guitarist Jason Becker has been living since 1989 with the disease.

Devanshu Shrivastava

Born In July Of 1998. I am an Ex-student of MP Birla Institute of Fundamental Research. Studied Astrophysics & Astronomy. With The Love For Science And Hobby of Writing, I Am Trying To Create Awareness Of Every Possible Health Issue.


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