Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is a fatal neurodegenerative disease that affects people all over the world. It can affect people of all ages, but it is commonly seen in people between the ages of 40 and 70 years. It is the most common type of adult-onset motor neuron disease that affects both the upper motor neuron and the lower motor neuron. About 90% of people with this disease are of unknown origin, while the rest are associated with genetic mutations.
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The disease was discovered by a French neurologist [ Jean-Martin Charcot] in 1868 and was first called Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis in 1874. The disease is also known as “Lou Gehrig’s disease.” Lou Gehrig was a baseball player who was diagnosed with this disease. It was this disease that ended his career as a baseball player.
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis can lead to muscle weakness, respiratory problems, and even death. The life expectancy of a person with this disease is between two to five years even though some live far longer than that. It is therefore important to know how to navigate through this disease so that the normal life expectancy can be extended.
In this post, you will learn the meaning of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, the types, causes, symptoms, preventions, and some natural remedies for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
What Is Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis?
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder that affects the motor neuron system leading to loss of voluntary muscle control. Amyotrophic is derived from the Greek word A [no] MYO [muscle] TROPHIC [nourishment]. Amyotrophic is, therefore, the malnourishment of the muscle.
Motor Neurons are brain cells that are located in the brain and the spinal cord. These neurons send commands from the brain to the muscles of the body to carry out their functions. The motor neurons are of two types:
The Upper Motor Neuron
The upper motor neuron is a first-order neuron that is located in the central nervous system. The brain sends motor impulses through the upper motor neuron to the medulla in the brain or the spinal cord.
When there is a problem with the upper motor neuron, it is referred to upper motor neuron lesion. It causes symptoms like muscle weakness, muscle wasting, spastic paralysis, and hyperreflexia. Some examples of disorders that can cause damage to the upper motor neuron are multiple sclerosis, stroke, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, etc.
The Lower Motor Neuron
The lower motor neuron carries the motor impulse that has been sent from the brain or the spinal cord to the muscles of the body to carry out their functions.
When there is a problem with the lower motor neuron, it is referred to lower motor neuron lesion. It causes symptoms like flaccid paralysis, slurred speech, muscle weakness, muscle wasting, and hyporeflexia. Some examples of disorders that can cause damage to the lower motor neuron lesion are bells palsy, poliomyelitis, Guillain-Barre syndrome, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, etc.
From what we have seen above, we realize that Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis can cause damage to both the upper motor neuron, and the lower motor neuron.
Types of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis
There are two main types of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. They are:
Familial Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis
This is seen in about 5-10% of people with the disorder. This occurs as a result of variations in a gene and they run in families. These genes can be passed from parents to their offspring and other family members.
Sporadic Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis
This is the most common type of ALS that affects about 90% of people. People who have it develop it without an unknown origin.
Causes of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis
According to what we have earlier discussed, in about 90% of people affected, the exact cause of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is not known. However, for the 5-10% remaining, the disease is inherited. Certain researchers believe that environmental factor also plays a major role.
Risk Factors of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis
The following are some of the risk factors of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis:
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is more common in adults. The higher the age, the higher the risk of developing the condition. It is commonly seen in people between the ages of 40 and 70 years.
If a family member had been previously diagnosed with the condition, there is a high probability that the children or other family members will also have it. This type is known as Familial Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. Certain genetic variations can also cause it, and these variations can be transferred to their offspring.
In the earlier years of Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, men have higher chances of developing the condition than women. However, after 70 years, they both have the same chance of developing the condition.
Previous work in the Military
Some studies have shown that previous work in the military also raises the chances of developing the condition. However, the exact reason for this is yet to be discovered.
Smoking is one of the highest environmental risk factors for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. The more you smoke, the more your chances of developing this condition. This affects women more.
Symptoms of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis
The following are some of the symptoms of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis:
- Muscle twitches in the upper limb, lower limb, and tongue
- Muscle weakness
- Muscle cramps
- Muscle atrophy
- Slurred speech
- Coordination and balance problem
- Difficulty in walking
- Respiratory problems
Stages of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis
Stages of Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis show the progress of the symptoms of the disease. There are four stages of ALS. They include:
At the initial stage, symptoms are limited to a region or a few regions of the body. There is the presence of muscle twitches, and muscle cramps. Either flaccidity [loss of muscle tone] or spasticity [abnormal increase in muscle tone] may also set in. A person with a stage one diagnosis may also experience fatigue, difficulty in forming words, and the onset of balance problems.
The middle stage is a more advanced stage with symptoms becoming more pronounced. The affected muscles are paralyzed, when these muscles are not in use, contractures set in. This leads to the shortening of muscles, tendons, and joint rigidity. This stage also comes with a condition known as dysphagia [problems with swallowing]. There is also something peculiar about this stage; the affected person may also experience emotional problems such as uncontrollable laughter, and inappropriate crying without exactly feeling happy or sad respectively.
At this stage, the symptoms are getting worse. The activity of daily living becomes difficult, and the affected person becomes dependent on people to carry out their daily activities. What happens is that about 90% of the voluntary muscles in their bodies become paralyzed. They also come down with dizziness, headaches, and breathing difficulty. Those at this stage may also become malnourished as feeding and drinking through the mouth may no longer be possible.
when the disorder gets to this stage, the majority of the affected person will not be able to survive. This is because the muscles responsible for respiration are no longer working, and respiratory failure is inevitable. They may also choke on their food, which can also result in death.
Complications of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis
Some complications of ALS include the following:
Problems With Speaking
One of the symptoms of ALS is slurred speech. At first, they try to speak but people will still be able to understand them. As time goes on speaking becomes so difficult for them that people find it difficult to understand what they are trying to say.
Loss of Memory
Many people that are diagnosed with the condition often come down with frontotemporal dementia, which is majorly caused by gradual changes to the brain. This affects their memory and may lead to loss of memory.
A person who has dysphagia finds it difficult to swallow food. In the case of Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, the muscles involved in swallowing are weak. This makes them difficult to eat and they may become malnourished.
Respiratory problems are the most common cause of death for people with ALS. As we know that the disease affects the muscles that work for the entire body; this disorder can also affect the muscles involved in respiration. When this happens, the affected person finds it difficult to breathe and may need support. When there is an insufficient supply of oxygen to the lungs as a result of weak actions of the respiratory muscles, it may lead to respiratory failure. This can lead to death if not properly treated.
Other respiratory complications that may occur as a result of Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis are:
Pneumonia is the infection of one or both lungs that leads to inflammation of the alveoli [air sacs] of the lungs. As we already know that ALS causes weakness of the muscles of the body, the diaphragm which is the major muscle of respiration, over time, also becomes weakened. This leads to decreased respiratory capacity and mucus build-up in the alveoli of the lungs.
Prevention of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis
There is no known way at present by which amyotrophic lateral sclerosis can be prevented.
Natural Remedies For Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis
The following are some of the natural remedies for ALS:
Exercising is one of the ways by which amyotrophic lateral sclerosis can be managed. Low to moderate-impact exercises are recommended for them as high-impact exercises can be overbearing for them. People suffering from the disease should perform:
- Exercises that target the weak muscles, to strengthen them. To achieve this, they should make use of low to moderate weights.
- Balance and coordination exercises to reduce the risk of falling.
- Stretching exercises reduce muscle stiffness thereby preventing the shortening of muscles, tendons, and skin; a deformity known as contractures.
- Aerobic exercises such as walking, swimming, cycling, running, etc. should be done to increase the aerobic capacity of the affected persons and improve their overall health.
Speech therapy can help amyotrophic lateral sclerosis patients by strengthening their vocal muscles. This helps to improve communication and reduce slurred speech in these people. For people at the latter stages whose vocal muscles are so weak, non-verbal techniques can also be adopted, and they will still be able to express themselves.
A muscle cramp is a sudden and painful involuntary contraction of the muscles. On a tight muscle, you can apply heat by applying a warm towel or heating pad. By doing this, blood flows to this area and these cramps are reduced. Heat can also help to reduce stiff joints.
Palliative care is specialized medical care that helps people with terminal illnesses to increase their quality of life. It is usually advisable to opt-in for this option as soon as a person is diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Studies have shown that palliative care improved the rate of survival for those with ALS more than those who didn’t receive it.
While palliative care can be given at the onset of the diagnosis of a terminal illness, hospice care is given to those that are approaching the end of their life. At the final stage of Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, this is the most important measure that can be taken as it helps to reduce the pain they feel, calming and providing them with comfort. It also focuses on increasing their quality of life.
The above measures won’t reverse amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. This is because there is currently no cure for the condition. The average survival time for this condition is 3 years. About 20% of people living with the condition will make it to 5 years; about 10% of people with ALS will make it to 10 years. Only about 5% will make it to 20 years or more.
Even though there is no cure for this condition, if the measures stated above are properly followed, the rate of progression of the condition will help slow down. However, if after a short while you notice that is not the case, it is very important to inform your doctor for expert management.