Lou Gehrig’s Disease
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), otherwise known as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease”, is a disease which involves advancing neurodegenerative disease that has an effect on the nerve cells of the brain as well as the spinal cord. Motor neurons get to the spinal cord from the brain and to the muscles form the spinal cord all over the body. In ALS, the advancing degeneration of the motor neurons at some point results to the individual’s death. As soon as the motor neurons die, the brain’s ability to start as well as controls muscle movement is no longer there. Individuals, in the later phases of the disease, whose voluntary muscle action has been affected progressively, could become fully paralyzed.
Amyotrophic is based on the Greek language. “A-“ means negative or no. “Myo” meanwhile pertains to the muscle. Lastly, “trophic” means nourishment. So amytrophic means “no muscle nourishment”. When muscles no longer have nourishment, it then “atrophies” or it gets wasted away. “Lateral” pertains to the parts of the spinal cord of a person where nerve cell portions that signal as well as control the muscles are found. When this portion degenerates, it results into a hardening, or sclerosis, or scarring in the region.
When the motor neurons deteriorate, they are no longer able to do their activities like sending impulses to the muscle fibers which, normally, lead to muscle movement. At the early stage, the first symptoms usually involve an increase in the weakening of the muscles, particularly those that involve the legs and arms, swallowing, speech, or breathing. As soon as the muscles can no longer receive messages or signals from the motor neurons that are needed for them to function, the muscles start to atrophy or get smaller. The limbs appear “thinner” this time, as atrophy of the muscle tissues happen.
The body has a wide variety of nerves. Different kinds are involved in different activities. Some are involved in memory, thinking and identifying sensations (sharp or dull, hot or cold) while others are involved in hearing, vision, and a lot of other functions of the body.
When a person has ALS, the affected nerves are the motor neurons. These neurons allow for voluntary movements as well as muscle power. Instances that involve voluntary muscles involve reaching for something or walking up or down the stairs. These movements are handles by the muscles of the legs and arms.
While the digestive system and the heart are also composed of muscles, these are of another kind and their activities are involuntary. The movements are automatic. Therefore these parts are not affected in ALS. But, despite the lungs being involuntary, because you can hold your breath, breathing may be affected by ALS eventually.
As of the moment, what causes of ALS is still not thoroughly understood. Over time though, new scientific knowledge has been acquired pertaining to the disease’s physiology.
There is also no cure or treatment known today that stops or reverses ALS. There is a drug, however, that has been approved by the FDA called riluzole. This drug slows, although modestly, the advancing of ALS. There are also other drugs that are still being tested that can prove helpful.
More importantly, there are therapies and devices that can help control ALS symptoms. These help individuals have independence, as much as possible, and lengthen survival. Take note, and this is important, that ALS is a variable disease which means that every individual will have different experiences.
Image courtesy of alsa.org