We covered several related topics so far, including metrics, data, medications, but have not really touched on lifestyle issues. For example, how (is life a daily struggle that breeds stress?) and where (are you in the city, or living on waterfront property?) one lives comes into play along with personal and emotional outlook. We know that all these factors contribute to both symptoms and comfort, and in spite of the degenerative nature of the disease, certain scientific facts need to be addressed first.
On this page, we’ll cover some basics of ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), a serious neurological disease which can lead to muscle weakness, disability and eventually death. ALS is most commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, following the famous baseball player who died of it back in 1941.
On a worldwide basis, ALS occurs in about two people per 100,000 on average. Five to ten percent of the cases are inherited, but in the other cases, doctors don’t yet know why the disease occurs in some people but not in others.
More often then not, ALS starts with muscle twitching and weakness in a leg or an arm, accompanied with slurring of speech.
Here are some early signs of the disease:
* Muscle cramps and twitching in your arms, shoulders and tongue
* Weakness in your leg, feet or ankles
* Slurring of speech or trouble swallowing
* Difficulty lifting the front part of your foot and toes (footdrop)
* Hand weakness or clumsiness
More often than not, the disease usually starts in the hands, feet or limbs, then spreads to the other parts of the body. Muscles become progressively weaker to the point of paralysis. The disease eventually affects swallowing, chewing, speaking and breathing.
This is what we know: in this disease, the nerve cells that control the movement of your muscles gradually die, so your muscles progressively weaken and begin to waste away. As far as what causes the actual nerve cells to die is still being studied. Possible causes under scrutiny include:
* Free radicals – this pertains to the inherited form of ALS. It often involves a mutation in a gene that’s responsible for producing a strong antioxidant enzyme that protects your cells from damage caused by free radicals (the byproducts of oxygen metabolism).
* High glutamate levels – it would seem that people who have ALS usually have higher than normal levels of glutamate (which is a chemical messenger in the brain) in their spinal fluid. It’s known that too much glutamate is toxic to some nerve cells.
* Autoimmune responses – some researchers have speculated that one possible trigger that results in ALS comes from the result of a person’s immune system attacking some of his or her body’s own normal cells.