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An Overview of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis

Man touching his back because of severe back pain

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis is a combination of neurological conditions that interfere with voluntary muscle function. ALS is quite prevalent worldwide; 14,000 to 15,000 Americans suffer from the disease, according to the data from the Centers for Disease Control in 2016. Because ALS is linked to the nerves controlling voluntary movement, it affects basic bodily functions such as chewing, swallowing, breathing, and speaking. ALS is progressive in nature, and there is no cure or effective treatment protocol to cease or stop the advancement of the condition.

ALS is a disease that targets the motor neurons, which means that it is responsible for the deterioration of nerve tissue that carries messages from the brain to the spinal cord, and from there to muscles in various parts of the body.

Symptoms of ALS include:

  • Muscle stiffness or weakness in the arms, diaphragm, legs, and neck
  • Loss of strength
  • Loss of speech, movement, breathing, and the ability to eat
  • Slurred speech
  • Muscle cramping and twitching in the arms, legs, shoulders, or tongue

Individuals suffering from ALS eventually expire due to respiratory failure, which occurs within 3 to 5 years of the onset of symptoms.

ALS has not been linked to any race or ethnicity, although Caucasians have the highest incidence of developing the disease. Men have a slightly greater likelihood of contracting the condition, with symptoms most often appearing between the ages of 55 and 75. Those individuals with a genetic history of ALS are more likely to acquire the disorder.

A physician uses a detailed medical history review and physical exam, along with EMG, MRI, nerve conduction studies, and lab tests to diagnose ALS.

Although no cure is available for ALS, some treatments can help prevent complications, reduce symptoms, and improve the quality of life. Certain specialized medications can contribute to decreasing deterioration of motor neurons. Physical therapy helps lessen fatigue and limit muscle contractures, while speech therapy can aid with communication and swallowing. Nutrition therapy helps people receive the right nourishment, and breathing support with a specialized mask can assist in managing shortness of breath.

If you are experiencing muscle stiffness or weakness in the arms, legs, or neck and would like to schedule a consultation with one of our physicians, please call our New Braunfels or Seguin offices.

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