About Amyotrophic lateral schlerosis (ALS)

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Also known as motor neurone disease or Lou Gehrig’s disease

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a progressive neurodegenerative disease affecting motor neurons in the brain and spinal cord. Motor neurons are nerve cells that control muscle cells. ALS attacks the motor neurons eventually causing them to die resulting in inability to move and control movement.

Symptoms

Onset of ALS symptoms usually occurs in people ages 40 to 70, although it can also occur in young adults in their 20s and 30s. Symptoms may be limited to a single area on the body or may affect multiple areas.

The first signs of ALS, include:

  • Weakness in the hands or arms
  • Weakness in the legs or feet

Patients may also experience:

  • Muscle cramps, spasms or twitching in the arms or legs
  • Difficulty walking/balancing
  • Difficulty speaking and swallowing
  • Fatigue

Diagnosis

Since there currently is no single diagnostic test for ALS, our team of neurologists specializing in neuromuscular diseases may use a few of the following tests for diagnosis:

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Blood and urine tests
  • Neurological exam
  • Muscle biopsy
  • Spinal tap
  • Genetic tests

Treatment

Currently there is no cure for ALS, but there are medications to treat and help manage symptoms.

Causes and risks

The exact causes of ALS are unknown.

Risk factors include:

  • Family history
    • 5% to 10% of ALS diagnoses are familial ALS, meaning the disease runs in the family.
  • Age
    • Risk increases between the ages of 40 and 60.
  • Gender
    • Men tend to develop ALS more than women.
  • Military service
    • Veterans are almost twice as likely to be diagnosed with ALS.

Interested in learning more about neurodegenerative diseases?

Join us for our educational series, Dialogue on Dementia, featuring renowned physicians and scientists for dialogue on research regarding the onset and progression of dementia, Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases.

Learn more

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