Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) Explained
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, affects nerve cells in the spinal cord and brain. It is a progressive neurodegenerative disease. Neurodegenerative is a big word which means the nerves are slowly dying. Amyotrophic, when broken down, literally means no muscle nourishment. If a muscle does not get the nourishment it needs from the nerves and other places, it slowly wastes away, or atrophies. Lateral refers to the spinal cord, where nerves used to control muscles degenerate, causing hardening, or sclerosis. All these words are big and can be unnerving for the person who doesn’t understand medical terminology, so it’s important to insist on a breakdown of any misunderstood terms.
In a person without ALS, motor neurons, or the nerves which help people move, reach between the spinal cord and the brain, then extend to all the muscles in the body. In ALS, these nerves degenerate progressively, eventually dying. When these nerves die, the brain loses the ability to tell the muscles how to move. Voluntary muscle movement is most directly affected, which means individuals lose the ability to eat, speak, move and breathe. Voluntary movement examples are stepping off a curb or reaching for a fork.
ALS typically strikes a sufferer between 40 and 70 years of age. There are nearly 20,000 Americans with this condition, and veterans are twice as likely to have the condition, though the reason is unknown. ALS is categorized into two different types: Sporadic and familial.
Sporadic – this is more common than any other form of ALS. It begins as Progressive Bulbar Palsy, which affects nerves controlling swallowing and breathing. However, this type of palsy can develop into ALS.
Familial – This is also referred to as FALS, and it only accounts for 10% of United States cases. It is the inherited version of ALS. Most ALS sufferers carry a 50% chance of passing the mutated gene onto the children, who will then develop the condition.
Research is ongoing for this condition, and there is no current cure, however, the FDA has approved Riluzole to help slow down the progression of the condition. It only slows the condition moderately, however, and only for some people. This treatment helps the patient experience a higher quality of life, if the drug interacts correctly with the condition. The drug does not help every person with ALS. However, scientists are continuing to try to find answers, and individuals with ALS are encouraged to join support groups to help the medical community better understand the disease. Additionally, sufferers can find an ALS Association Certified Treatment Center. These centers run under national standards of best practices and multidisciplinary care and help manage the condition, assisting sufferers with independence maintenance for as long as possible. Studies have shown that participation in these centers helps increase lifespan and quality of living.
Vancouver Home Health care Agency is happy to answer any further questions regarding ALS.
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