Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a progressive nervous system disorder. It gradually destroys the nerves responsible for muscle movement. Over time, ALS leads to almost total paralysis of muscle movement, including breathing. Eventually, the disorder leads to respiratory failure.
The Nervous System
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The cause of ALS is unknown. Genes may play a role.
Factors that may increase your risk of getting ALS include:
- Having a family member with ALS
- Being in the military or having other occupations with risk of exposure
- Having certain genetic mutations
Symptoms of ALS include:
- Progressive weakness in arms and legs
- Wrist or foot drop
- Difficulty holding things
- Frequent tripping while walking
- Muscle twitching
- Unpredictable and changing emotions
- Slurred speech
- Hoarseness and coughing
- Trouble chewing and swallowing, resulting in frequent choking and gagging
- Weight loss due to trouble eating
- Trouble breathing
- Excess salivation, drooling
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. There are no tests that can diagnose ALS. Tests may be used to rule out other medical conditions.
Images may be taken of your bodily structures. This can be done with:
Your bodily fluids and tissues may be tested. This can be done with:
- Blood tests
- Lumbar puncture
Your muscles and nerves may be evaluated. This can be done with
(EMG)/nerve conduction velocities (NCV).
Your cognitive skills may be assessed. This can be done with neuropsychological testing.
There is currently no cure for ALS.
Treatment may help to reduce or manage symptoms.
A combination of treatments may work best. This may include:
- Taking medications
Working with therapists and joining a
- Participating in social activities
Treatment options include:
has been approved for ALS. The drug may slightly improve functioning, but it does not stop the disease from progressing.
You may be prescribed these medicines for symptoms:
- Muscle relaxants reduce spasticity
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and other pain medications
botulinum toxin, antihistamine—To reduce heavy drooling
- Antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications
- A combination of
dextromethorphan and quinidine—To treat inappropriate laughter or crying
Supportive care may be needed as ALS progresses, including:
- Physical therapy—To reduce pain associated with muscle cramping and spasticity
Respiratory care—In some cases, you may need to receive a mixture of air and oxygen from a machine. A device may also be used that helps your breathing muscles contract. If you cannot move enough air in and out of your lungs, you may need
to have a tube inserted into your airway.
Nutritional care—Your doctor may make changes to your diet. In some cases, getting nutrition through
- Speech therapy—Speech therapy may be used to optimize communication. Therapy may include exploring alternate methods of communication.
There are no guidelines for preventing ALS because the cause is unknown.
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Last reviewed February 2014 by Rimas Lukas, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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