By: Sydnee Petruzzi
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, is a disease known to affect the spinal cord. It requires urgent medical attention and can be life-threatening if left untreated. ALS can also be called Lou Gehrig’s disease because a baseball player was diagnosed with it.
ALS affects the nerve cells (motor neurons) that control voluntary muscle and cause them to deteriorate and die, and because motor neurons extend from the brain to the spinal cord to muscle all throughout the body, they stop sending messages to the muscle. This causes the muscles to stop functioning. In about 5% of people with ALS, it was inherited, but to the rest the cause is unknown. There is ongoing research studying the potential causes of ALS.
ALS begins with slurred speech, muscle twitches, or weakness in the limb. It progressively gets worse until the patient is no longer able to control the muscle needed to eat, move, speak, and breathe. There is no cure for this disease. Symptoms of ALS include difficulty performing daily activities, including walking. People diagnosed with ALS will be more likely to fall or trip which may result in fractures and bones. They may have slurred speech or trouble swallowing. There may be hand weakness or clumsiness, muscle cramps, arm twitches. There may be hormonal changes like excessive crying, laughing, or yawning. Generally, there is no pain in ALS, but it can occur in later stages.
Some people are at more risk for ALS than others. For instance, if it runs in the family, there is a 50 percent chance of them developing the disease. Age is also a factor. If someone is between 40 and their mid-60s, they are at more risk than someone younger than them. Males are also at more risk than females of developing ALS, but only before the age of 65. Researchers believe it may be caused by genetics because studies of the human genome have found similarities in the genetic variations of people with familial ALS and non-inherited ALS.
There are certain environmental factors that have been known to trigger ALS. Smoking, which is the most likely cause, it occurs mostly in women after menopause. An environmental toxin can also cause this condition. Exposure to lead or other metals may be linked to ALS. Military service can also lead to ALS because of the exposure to chemicals or metals, traumatic injuries, viral infection, or intense exertion.
When asked what amyotrophic lateral sclerosis was, Noah Wysocki replied, “When you lose the ability to use your muscles.”
While ALS is an exceedingly rare disease, it can be extremely dangerous. The disease can be managed but will inevitably be fatal.