What is ALS?
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), commonly known as Lou Gehrig's Disease, is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that attacks motor neurons in the brain (upper motor neurons) and spinal cord (lower motor neurons). These motor neurons control the movement of voluntary muscles. When the motor neurons can no longer send impulses to the muscles due to ALS, the muscles begin to waste away (atrophy), causing increased muscle weakness. Motor neuron, or nerve cell, death makes it impossible for the brain to control muscles or signal them to move. Symptoms of ALS include twitching and cramping of muscles (called fasciculation), loss of motor control in hands and arms, impaired use of the arms and legs, weakness and fatigue, tripping and falling, dropping things, slurred or thick speech and difficulty breathing or swallowing.
In most cases, ALS patients do not experience impaired intellectual reasoning, vision, or hearing. Eye and bladder muscles, along with sexual function and drive, are not normally affected. ALS is diagnosed using a variety of tests and examinations, including laboratory tests, muscle and nerve biopsy, spinal tap, X-rays, MRI's and electro-diagnostic tests. While ALS is presently incurable, the situation is not hopeless. The Carolinas ALS Center research team is working toward a better understanding of the cause of ALS, and for ways to prevent, or even cure the disease. Recent studies indicate that we can help ALS patients live longer, more productive lives with a combination of diet, exercise, mental attitude, access to the most current therapies, and the support of family and friends.
- Provided by The Carolinas Neuromuscular/ALS Center