Throughout the news we periodically hear about diseases that people have, and unfortunately die from. Recently in the news we learned that theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking passed away after many years fighting ALS. ALS is also known as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis and we might also have heard it called Lou Gehrig’s Disease. In 1939, one of the best baseball players to ever play the game, publicly announced that he had ALS and would fight it. Unfortunately 2 years later just shy of his 38th birthday he passed away. So what exactly is ALS and is there anything you can do to help prevent you from this disease?
What is ALS?
ALS is a disease that impacts the of the nervous system that control voluntary muscle movement. In ALS, motor neurons gradually disappear and in turn the muscles they control become weak and eventually nonfunctional.
- A – Amyotrophic – the word itself is of Greek origin thats means “without nourishment to muscles” and refers to the loss of signals nerve cells normally send to muscle cells.
- L – Lateral – means “to the side” and refers to the location of the damage in the spinal cord.
- S – Sclerosis – means “hardened” and refers to the hardened nature of the spinal cord in advanced ALS.
In other parts of the world the disease is called motor neurone disease in reference to the cells that are lost in this disorder.
What are the symptoms of ALS?
For whatever reason, men are about one-and-a-half times more likely to have the disease as women and tends to be diagnosed commonly between 40-60 years old. Since ALS only impairs motor neurons, the disease does not affect a person’s mind, personality, intelligence, or memory. There is no loss of senses either including eye sight, smell, taste, hear, or recognize touch. Patients usually maintain control of eye muscles and bladder and bowel functions. Initially symptoms are varied in different people. One person may have trouble lifting a glass of water, while another person may experience a change in vocal pitch when speaking or difficulty swallowing. ALS is typically a disease that involves a gradual onset. ALS is not an easy disease to diagnose as there is no one test to establish the diagnosis of ALS. It is through a clinical examination, series of diagnostic tests, which in turn rule out other diseases that mimic ALS, that a diagnosis can be established.
If you have any questions about this disease for yourself or a loved one, please talk to your primary care physician and they can get you additional information.