Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis or ALS for short has a Greek origin. Amyotrophic comes from ” myo,” which means “without a muscle,” and “troph,” which means “food.” Around the mid-19th century, the word “amyotrophic” meant weak or malfunctioning muscles. “Lateral,” on the other hand, describes the parts of the spinal cord that hosts the nerve cells responsible for the movement of the muscles. Where there is a degeneration of this part of the spine, there is a resulting scarring or hardening of such parts —sclerosis. This hardening then hinders the effective transmission of nerve signals.
Therefore, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis —or simply ALS— is a distinct and rare neurological disease affecting the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. As mentioned earlier, these nerve cells control the voluntary movement of muscles, such as talking and walking. ALS is known to be a progressive disease, and as of today, neither a cure nor any proper treatment can reverse the disease’s progression.
This condition causes the motor neurons in the body to decline in functionality and die. This lack of function implies that the motor neurons have stopped sending messages to the muscles, which may, in turn, weaken them. The muscles then start to twitch before eventually wasting away. Ultimately, the brain loses control of the body’s voluntary movements.
Symptoms of ALS
The early symptoms of this disease include:
- Muscle Cramps;
- Spasticity —i.e., stiff and tight muscles.
- Nasal and slurred speech;
- The patient finds it difficult to chew or swallow and;
- Certain muscle weaknesses will affect an arm, leg, neck, and diaphragm.
With the progression of the disease, other problems may develop. These include:
- Patients with ALS will notice a significant decline in their ability to move. Ultimately, this can prevent them from standing, walking, or even getting out of bed.
- These patients will also have a hard time chewing food and swallowing.
- Additionally, these patients will eventually not be able to breathe independently and ultimately need a ventilator.
- ALS will hinder such patients from maintaining weight.
- Severe muscle cramps and neuropathy will occur.
- Finally, the patient may suffer from anxiety and depression because their mental faculties remain intact, taking note of their progressive loss of function.
Risk Factors of ALS
There are several risk factors for ALS. These include:
- Genetics: About 5 to 10% of people are known to inherit ALS from their parents.
- Age: Although ALS can develop at any stage in life, the risk of developing such a disease increases from age 55 and beyond.
- Sex: Moreso men are more likely to develop ALS than women before they reach age 65. By age 70, the risk is the same for both sexes.
- Race and ethnicity: Finally, non-Hispanics and whites are more likely to develop ALS.