Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Treatment & Prevention

By: Juliet Cohen

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is a advanced, usually fatal disease. It is caused by the erosion of motor neurons, the nerve cells in the central nervous system that control voluntary muscle movement. This disorder is one of the most common neuromuscular diseases worldwide, and people of all races and ethnic backgrounds are affected. Although many authors consider amyotrophic lateral sclerosis to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental risk factors, so far the latter have not been firmly identified, other than a higher risk with increasing age. The progressive degeneration of the motor neurons in ALS eventually lead to their death. When the motor neurons die, the ability of the brain to initiate and control muscle movement is lost. With voluntary muscle action progressively affected, patients in the later stages of the disease may become totally paralyzed.

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is generally spared except in assertive situations such as when amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is associated with frontotemporal dementia. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis most commonly affects people between 40 and 60 years of age, but younger and older people can also develop the disease. As one of the motor neuron diseases, the disorder causes muscle weakness and atrophy throughout the body as both the upper and lower motor neurons degenerate, ceasing to send messages to muscles. Men are affected slightly more often than women. However there are reports of more subtle cognitive changes of the frontotemporal type in many patients when detailed neuropsychological testing is employed. Sensory nerves and the autonomic nervous system, which controls functions like sweating, generally remain functional.

The first symptoms of Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis may include twitching, tendon weakness affecting an arm or a leg, cramping, slurred and nasal speech, or difficulty chewing or swallowing. These general complaints then develop into more obvious weakness or atrophy that may cause a physician to suspect amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Symptoms of upper motor neuron involvement include tight and stiff muscles and exaggerated reflexes including an overactive gag reflex. An abnormal reflex commonly called Babinski's sign also indicates upper motor neuron damage. Symptoms of lower motor neuron degeneration include muscle weakness and atrophy, muscle cramps, and fleeting twitches of muscles that can be seen under the skin. However, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis does not affect the senses and it usually does not impact a person's ability to think or reason.

Not any test can afford a definitive diagnosis of Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, whereas the attendance of upper and minor motor neuron signs in a single limb is strongly suggestive. Other muscles diseases are consult in the evaluation of patients. The treatment of ALS is also directed toward suppressing the immune inflammation felt to play a role in the degeneration of the nervous system of these patients. The goal of treatment is to control symptoms. Baclofen or diazepam may be used to control spasticity that interferes with activities of daily living. Trihexyphenidyl or amitriptyline may be prescribed for people with problems swallowing their own saliva. Physicians can prescribe medications to help reduce fatigue, ease muscle cramps, control spasticity, and reduce excess saliva and phlegm. Drugs also are available to help patients with pain, depression, sleep disturbances, and constipation.

Medical Conditions
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 

» More on Medical Conditions