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ALS Medical Encyclopedia

 

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ALS Medical Encyclopedia

ALS Medical Encyclopedia

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis

Lou Gehrig's disease; ALS; Upper and lower motor neuron disease; Motor neuron disease Last reviewed: August 26,2012.

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, is a disease of the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that control voluntary muscle movement.

ALS is also known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

1 out of 10 cases of ALS are due to a genetic defect. The other times, the cause is unknown.

In ALS, nerve cells (neurons) waste away or die, and can no longer send messages to muscles. This eventually leads to muscle weakening, twitching, and an inability to move the arms, legs, and body. The condition slowly gets worse. When the muscles in the chest area stop working, it becomes hard or impossible to breathe.

ALS affects approximately 5 out of every 100,000 people worldwide.

There are no known risk factors, except for having a family member who has a hereditary form of the disease.

Symptoms

Symptoms usually do not develop until after age 50, but they can start in younger people.

ALS have a loss of muscle strength and coordination that eventually gets worse and makes

to do routine tasks such as going up steps, getting out of a chair, or swallowing.

Breathing or swallowing muscles may be the first muscles affected. As the disease gets worse, more muscle groups develop problems.

ALS does not affect the senses (sight, smell, taste, hearing, touch). It only rarely affects bladder or bowel function, eye movement, or a person's ability to think or reason.

Symptoms include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Choking easily
  • Drooling
  • Gagging
  • Head drop due to weakness of the neck muscles
  • Muscle cramps
  • Muscle contractions called fasciculations

  • Muscle weakness that slowly gets worse
  • Commonly Involves one part of the body first, such as the arm or hand
  • Eventually leads to difficulty lifting, climbing stairs, and walking
  • Paralysis

  • Speech problems, such as a slow or abnormal speech pattern (slurring of words)
  • Voice changes, hoarseness
  • Weight loss

Signs and tests

The doctor or nurse will examine you and ask questions about your medical history and symptoms.

The physical exam may show:

  • Weakness, often beginning in one area
  • Muscle tremors, spasms, twitching, or loss of muscle tissue
  • Twitching of the tongue (common)

  • Abnormal reflexes
  • Stiff or clumsy walk
  • Increased reflexes at the joints
  • Difficulty controlling crying or laughing (sometimes called emotional incontinence)
  • Loss of gag reflex

Tests that may be done include:

Blood tests to rule out other conditions

Breathing test to see if lung muscles are affected

  • Cervical spine CT or MRI to be sure there is no disease or injury to the neck, which can mimic ALS
  • Electromyography to see which nerves or muscles do not work properly

  • Genetic testing, If there is a family history of ALS
  • Head CT or MRI to rule out other conditions

  • Swallowing studies
  • Spinal tap (lumbar puncture)
  • Treatment

There is no known cure for ALS. A medicine called riluzole helps slow down the symptoms and lets you live longer.

Treatments to control other symptoms Include:

Baclofen or diazepam for spasticity that interferes with daily activities

Trihexyphenidyl or amitriptyline for people with problems swallowing their own saliva

Physical therapy, rehabilitation, use of braces or a wheelchair, or other measures may be needed to help with muscle function and general health.

Choking is common. Patients may decide to have a tube placed into their stomach for feeding. This is called a gastrostomy.

A nutritionist Is very important. Patients with ALS tend to lose weight. The illness itself increases the need for food and calories. At the same time, problems with swallowing make it hard to eat enough.

Breathing devices include machines that are used only at night, and constant mechanical ventilation.

Patterns should discuss their wishes regarding artificial ventilation with their families and doctors.

 

Support Groups

Emotional support Is vital In coping with the disorder, because mental functioning is not affected. Groups such as the ALS Association may be available to help people who are coping with the disorder

Support for people who are caring for someone with ALS Is also available, and may be very helpful.

See: ALS - support group

Expectations (prognosis)

Overtime, people with ALS progressively lose the ability to function and care for themselves. Death often occurs within 3 - 5 years of diagnosis. About 1 in 4 patients survive for more than 5 years after diagnosis.

Complications

  • Breathing in food or fluid (aspiration)
  • Loss of ability to care for self
  • Lung failure (See: Adult respiratory distress syndrome)

  • Pneumonia
  • Pressure sores
  • Weight loss

Calling your health care provider

Call your health care provider If:

you have symptoms of ALS, particularly If you have a family history of the disorder

You or someone else has been diagnosed with ALS and symptoms get worse or new symptoms develop

Increased difficulty swallowing, difficulty breathing, and episodes of apnea are symptoms that require immediate attention.

Prevention

You may want to see a genetic counselor if you have a family history of ALS.

References

l.Murray B, Mitsumoto H. Disorders of upper and lower motor neurons. In: Daroff RB, Fenichel GM, Jankovic J, eds. Bradley's Neurology in Clinical Practice. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2012:chap 74.

2. Shaw PJ. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and other motor neuron diseases. In: Goldman L, Schafer Al, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 418.

Review Date: 8/26/2012.

Reviewed by: Luc Jasmin, M D, PhD, Department of Neurosurgery at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles, and Department of Anatomy at UCSF, Sa n Francisco, CA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. David C DugdaJe, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.

A.D.A.M., Disclaimer

  • RILUTEK (riluzole) is indicated for the treatment of patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
  • RILUTEK extends survival and/or time to invasive breathing assistance.
  • Atenolol (Tenormin) is in a group of drugs called beta-blockers. Beta-blockers affect the heart and circulation (blood flow through arteries and veins).
  • Atenolol is used to treat angina (chest pain) and hypertension (high blood pressure). It is also used to treat or prevent heart attack.

Atenolol may also be used for purposes other than those listed in this medication guide.

  • Clonazepam (donazepan) is used alone or along with other medications to treat convulsive disorders such as epilepsy. Clonazepam (donazepan) is also prescribed for panic disorder - unexpected attacks of overwhelming panic accompanied by fear of recurrence
  • Seroquel (quetiapine) is an antipsychotic medicine. It works by changing the actions of chemicals in the brain.

Seroquel is used to treat schizophrenia in adults and children who are at least 13 years old. It is also used to treat bipolar disorder (manic depression) in adults and children who are at least 10 years old.

Seroquel is also used together with antidepressant medications to treat major depressive disorder in adults.

Extended-release quetlapine (Seroquel XR) is for use only In adults and should not be given to anyone younger than 18 years old.

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What Is Alzheimer's?

Alzheimer's disease is a neurodegenerative disease of the brain characterized by a dementia with prominent memory impairment and specific microscopic pathology including senile plaques and neurofibrillary tangles.* Either alone or in combination with other disorders, Alzheimer's cause of approximately 75% of dementia cases. Genetic risk: * Family history of Alzheimer's disease in a first-degree.

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What Is Parkinson's?

Parkinson's is a chronic condition that primarily affects movement. It is caused by the breakdown of brain cells that create a substance called dopamine. Dopamine acts as a chemical messenger to the parts of the brain that control movement. Lack of sufficient dopamine causes the typical Parkinson's symptoms of tremor, slow movement, stiffness, and problems with balance and walking.

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Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)

ALS is a progressive, always fatal neuromuscular disease that begins with muscle weakness and as it progresses, results in total paralysis and the inability to speak and swallow. Sadly, the mind and senses remain intact. Each day, an additional 15 people are diagnosed. Estimated 5000 people in the United States are diagnosed with the disease each year.

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