Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)
About 30,000 patients in the United States have amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also called Lou Gehrig's disease. The disease is named in memory of baseball hall of famer Lou Gehrig, whose career ended in 1939 because of the condition. This serious condition of adulthood occurs when muscles throughout the body gradually become weaker and begin to waste away.
The disorder starts with cramps and weakness in the hands and sometimes the feet. Weakness may attack on one side of the body more than the other. As time goes by, the muscles may tighten, which can lead to tremors and spasms. Patients eventually experience difficulty swallowing and breathing.
Causes and Risk Factors
In many instances, the cause of ALS is unknown. An inherited tendency to these disorders appears to be involved about 10 percent of cases. More men than women get this disease.
Muscle weakness without a loss of feeling often leads a doctor to test for ALS. Electromyography, which measures electrical activity in muscles, is used to find out whether the problem is nerve-related or muscle-related. Where the disorder appears in the body, early symptoms and changes in symptoms may also help specialists diagnose Lou Gehrig's disease.
No specific cure is available at this time, but there are several methods available to help control symptoms. Physical therapy may help keep the muscles strong and prevent contraction. When swallowing difficulties occur, the patient risks choking while eating. In those cases, a feeding tube is used. Measures are available to ease breathing dysfunction, drooling and muscle spasms.