Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS): Symptoms, Causes, and Its Types

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) refers to a progressive and fatal neurologic illness that affects the brain and spinal cord. It is a relatively rare disease affecting about 6000-7000 individuals yearly. However, studies suggest that there has been a 9% increase in its prevalence since 2015 and it is expected to rise by up to 16% by 2040.

Currently, there is no definite cure for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to manage and prevent the progression of its debilitating symptoms. If you or someone you love struggles with ALS, then read on below to learn more about the illness.

What is ALS?

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is a progressive neurodegenerative condition that impairs and damages the neurons in the brain. More specifically, it targets and damages the motor neurons, which control the voluntary muscular movements of the body. 

ALS disrupts communication between neurons by gradually destroying their insulation. As they deteriorate and die, they won’t be able to send signals to and from the muscles, thus leading to muscle weakness and atrophy.

Additionally, the death of motor neurons can also impair the diaphragm’s normal function. Therefore, patients with ALS can also experience breathing difficulties over time.

The cause of ALS remains unknown, but researchers have identified mutations in genes linked with the disease that may explain why some people develop symptoms much earlier than others.

What are the types of ALS?

ALS is also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, after the first patient to die from it (Lou Gehrig). This condition may be classified into two, depending on its onset:

  • Sporadic ALS - this type of condition is the most common one affecting about 95% of individuals diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. These are the ones that happen suddenly and without warning or a clear cause.
  • Familial ALS - this type of ALS is inherited genetically, especially if one parent carries an ALS-specific gene. However, familial ALS are rare and only occurs in about 5% to 10% of patients. 


What are the symptoms of ALS?

The onset and severity of each symptom may vary from person to person. It may also depend on their age and any underlying medical condition. Generally, patients with ALS experience loss of control over their muscles and general muscle weakness. Other signs and symptoms include the following:

  • Muscle twitches in extremities, shoulders, and tongue.
  • Muscle cramps
  • Involuntary muscle spasms
  • SluSlurredeech
  • Eating and swallowing problems
  • Mobility problems
  • Difficulties in doing activities of daily living
  • Changes in behavior and cognitive function

ALS symptoms, such as muscle spasms, start out as mild involuntary movements that may go unnoticed. Initially, it affects the hands, arms, and limbs, then spreads out to the rest of the body muscles. 

Over time, these symptoms can become severe to the point of causing permanent damage to the neurons that control these muscle movements. If left untreated, some complications patients might experience include breathing problems, eating disorders, dementia, and speech difficulties.

How is it diagnosed?

A neurologist can efficiently diagnose amyotrophic lateral sclerosis through medical history review and symptom correlation. They may also order specific diagnostic tests to rule out certain illnesses and confirm a suspected ALS case. This includes the following:

  • Electromyography or EMG
  • Nerve conduction study
  • Magnetic resonance imaging or MRI
  • Lumbar puncture
  • Blood and urine test
  • Muscle biopsy

Once a diagnosis has been made, your physician will start coordinating with other healthcare providers to create a treatment plan that will suit your unique needs.

What are the treatment options for ALS?

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is a progressive and irreversible condition. This means that the internal damages that had already been done may not be reversed anymore. However, there’s a significant chance of slowing down its progress and managing its symptoms through these treatment options.

  • Medications 

the FDA approved three types of medications that can help slow down the progression of ALS and prolong one’s life expectancy. These are Riluzole, Edaravone, Sodium phenylbutyrate and taurursodiol. 

Your physician may also prescribe other types of medications that can reduce or relieve other symptoms, such as muscle spasms and cramps. 

  • Physical therapy  

physiotheraphy is an important aspect of your treatment plan as this can help maintain muscle strength, range of motion, and other normal functions. It can also serve as a low-impact exercise that can help you remain mobile and independent for as long as possible. 

  • Occupational therapy 

this allows you to learn how to move and adapt to your new restrictions and limitations. Your occupational therapist will help you find the best and safest techniques to perform certain tasks, such as walking, dressing, and eating.

  • Breathing therapy 

your physician or a pulmonologist will provide specific devices that can assist with your breathing. They might also give instructions on how to exercise and keep the lungs functional.

  • Speech and language therapy 

you will work with a speech therapist to improve your communication skills. They may also introduce easier and more convenient communication methods, such as through pen and paper or computer-based equipment.

  • Mental and psychological support 

battling ALS can have serious consequences for one’s mental and psychological health. So having mental counselling and emotional support as part of your treatment plan can be extremely crucial to both you and your family.


neuro rehabilitation

Where to find a high-quality neuro rehabilitation facility?

The symptoms of ALS can be debilitating, but you don’t have to suffer in silence. You can combat disease and maintain your quality of life with the right treatments and lifestyle changes.

At Neuro Rehab, we are equipped to help patients with ALS get the proper therapy and medical care they deserve. We will assist you and your family every step of the way and provide the utmost comfort and dignity to your loved ones.

We provide plenty of programs that can address various illnesses, such as traumatic brain injury rehabilitation, stroke patient rehab, post-acute rehab, and more. Contact us at 800-626-3876 to learn more!

If you are interested in our services, schedule a tour today! 


The material contained on this site is for informational purposes only and DOES NOT CONSTITUTE THE PROVIDING OF MEDICAL ADVICE, and is not intended to be a substitute for independent professional medical judgment, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your health.



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