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Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a terminal neurological disorder characterized by progressive degeneration of nerve cells in the spinal cord and brain. Often referred to as "Lou Gehrig's disease" (a famous baseball player who died from the disease), it is one of the most devastating of the disorders that affects the function of nerves and muscles.
ALS does not affect mental functioning or the senses (such as seeing or hearing), and it is not contagious. Currently, there is no cure for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
Consider the following statistics regarding ALS:
There are three known classifications of ALS, including the following:
Patients who suffer from ALS initially experience weakness in one of their limbs that develops over a matter of days or, more commonly, a few weeks. Then, several weeks to months later, weakness develops in another limb. Sometimes the initial problem can be one of slurred speech or difficulty swallowing.
As ALS progresses, though, more and more symptoms are noticed. The following are the most common symptoms of ALS. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:
As the disease progresses, symptoms may include:
The symptoms of ALS may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Always consult your physician for a diagnosis.
In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic procedures for ALS may include the following:
Specific treatment for ALS will be determined by your physician based on:
For most people with ALS, primary treatment may involve the management of symptoms, and may include physical, occupational, speech, respiratory, and nutritional therapies. Some medications and/or heat or whirlpool therapy may help to relieve muscle cramping. Exercise, although recommended in moderation, may help to maintain muscle strength and function.
There is no proven treatment for ALS. However, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Rilutek®, the first drug that has prolonged the survival of persons with ALS.
Managing the symptoms of ALS is a process that may be challenging for people with the condition, their caregivers, and the medical team. However, it is important to know that there are many community resources available for support and assistance.
Researchers are conducting studies to increase their understanding of genes that may cause the disease, mechanisms that can trigger motor neurons to degenerate in ALS, and approaches to stop the progress leading to cell death.