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. More often then not, ALS starts with muscle twitching and weakness in a leg or an arm, accompanied with slurring of speech. 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. A friend, M, of my was diagnosed with ALS after being involved in a car accident where he was seriously injured. Interestingly he did not cause the accident but instead was a victim of a texting while driving motorist. After contacting a car accident lawyer whom he hired to negotiate with the insurance companies and eventually handle the court case, a physical therapist noted the frequently tell tale signs of muscle twitching and weakness in his leg. Parkinson’s Disease was ruled out and when his slurred speech which began to become more obvious after the accident did not improve, he was diagnosed as having ALS. At first the defense of the texting motorist, once they learned my friend was diagnosed with ALS, tried to imply that my friend must have caused the accident. But that was thrown out of court. Then they tried to offer a lower settlement because it would be difficult to know whether the ALS was the cause of the need for all the physical therapy or the car accident. The jury didn’t buy the defense’s reasoning. Once my friend’s car accident lawyer won a substantial settlement, M was able to focus on his ALS needs. Because there’s no reversing the course of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, treatments focus on slowing the progression of symptoms, preventing unnecessary complications and making the patient more comfortable and independent. He now has a great team at the Mayo Clinic helping him, but the diagnosis on top of the car accident left everyone in his family reeling.
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.