What is ALS?
"Every 90 minutes someone is diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a progressive>neurodegenerative disease that causes muscle weakness, paralysis, and ultimately, respiratory failure.ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, Charcot’s disease, and motor neuron disease (MND), attacks certain cells in the brain and spinal cord needed to keep our muscles moving. Early signs and symptoms of ALS include:
- muscle cramps and muscle twitching
- weakness in hands, legs, feet or ankles
- difficulty speaking or swallowing
The senses, including hearing, sight, smell, taste, and touch, are not affected by ALS. There is no single diagnostic test for ALS. However, experts in the disease, usually neurologists specializing in neuromuscular diseases, are very capable of diagnosing ALS. In some cases, they might order additional tests if the diagnosis is not clear. These include:
- electromyography and nerve conduction
- magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
- genetic tests
- muscle biopsy
- spinal tap
- blood and urine tests
Most people with ALS live 2-5 years after their first signs of disease. About 10% of people with ALS survive at least 10 years. This variable rate of disease progression makes prognosis difficult to predict and therapies challenging to develop. Currently, there is only a single medicine for specifically treating ALS – riluzole. The drug, marketed by Sanofi-Aventis under the name Rilutek, extends survival by only about 2 to 3 months."
(courtesy of the ALS Therapy Development Institute)