Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, or abbreviated as ALS is a slow worsening degeneration of the nerve cells of the spinal cord and the lower part of the brainstem, resulting in a gradual loss of control of voluntary muscles. The sensory nerves and the mental faculties are not affected.
The disease is ultimately fatal because the muscles that control breathing, swallowing and other important bodily functions are affected. After the onset of the symptoms, the patients are still alive average of three years. Most death by respiratory failure or pneumonia, which often occurs when breathing is interrupted long periods.
ALS generally starts between the ages of 50 and 70 and is more common in men than in women. According ALS Foundation Netherlands are diagnosed with ALS 500 people each year.
What are the characteristics of ALS?
Slowly but steadily progressive muscle weakness and degeneration in the limbs, torso, breathing muscles, throat and tongue. The muscles of the limbs are usually affected first.
Muscle twitching, cramping, stiffness and fatigue setting.
Slowed down, becoming less intelligible speech.
Difficulty breathing and swallowing, choking.
Weight loss due to muscle degeneration and dysphagia.
Sudden, involuntary nitrous or crying.
Changes in walking, getting worse walking.
The causes are not known, but in 2 to 10 percent of the cases, there appears to be question of genetic predisposition. The disease also occurs most often in people with a job that requires heavy physical work. Viral infections, serious injury or exhaustion may accelerate the decline in people with ALS. ALS is unavoidable.
There are no specific tests to confirm the diagnosis; but the disease history and a physical examination are necessary for the diagnosis. The diagnosis is made on the clinical manifestation of the disease. Especially neurological examination or MRI scans can be done to rule out other causes of the symptoms.
Cure is not possible and there is no specific treatment; any treatment aims to make the patient as comfortable as possible. According to the website of ALS Foundation Netherlands there is a medication that causes the life of the patient 3 to 6 months may be extended: Riluzole.
The patient is well advised to use the possibility of a mechanical ventilation, in case they are unable to breathe unaided. Artificial respiration, some patients may still live for years, although most would rather not be in a state of total paralysis, in which communication is possible only through eye movements, want to stay alive. It is important this issue at an early stage to consult with doctors and family, so the decision whether or not to perform CPR in case of respiratory arrest, was taken in advance.
There are mechanical devices, such as special eetgereedschap, available to facilitate certain actions. For people who can not walk anymore example, a special cane or walker is a godsend. Emotional support is of paramount importance. Besides the help of the local community, professional counseling may be valuable.
Go directly to a doctor at the first symptoms of unexplained muscle weakness or difficulty in muscle coordination, especially when speaking, breathing and / or swallowing seem disturbed. Read more about health issues? Take a look at the special on health issues.