What Is Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)?
Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) is a serious neurological ailment that mainly affects the motor neurons of the body which controls the movement of voluntary muscles of the body. It is a degenerative disease, which means that the condition worsens over time. As of now, the disease does not have a cure, neither there is any treatment to effectively control the symptoms or stop the progression of the disease.
It is also known as Lou Gehrig's disease after it was diagnosed in the baseball player of the same name in the 1930s.
What Are The Symptoms Of Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)?
In the initial stages of the disease, the symptoms are very subtle; hence the disease is often not diagnosed. However, as the disease progresses we can see weaknesses in the body parts. Symptoms include:
- Cramps in muscles
- Muscles become tight and stiff
- Muscle twitches in arms, legs tongue or shoulders
- Slurred speech and talking with a nasal tone
- Experiencing difficulty in chewing and swallowing
- Weakness in muscles of arms, neck, and legs
- Uncontrolled laughing or crying
Some people may first experience symptoms in arms, they find it difficult to button shirts or hold hinges. For some, it begins with the legs; such people experience difficulty in walking and often stumble down. When the first symptoms appear in arms or legs, it is called “limb onset” Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis.
For a few others, the disease begins with degeneration in the tongue and they notice that they have difficulty in swallowing. In such cases are called as “bulbar onset” Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis.
No matter where the symptoms begin, muscle weakness spreads to different parts of the body. As the disease progresses, people will have:
- Problems in standing, walking or running
- Problems in talking(dysarthria)
- Problems in breathing (dyspnea)
- Problems in getting in and out of bed
- Problems in using hands
- Problems in swallowing; risk of choking
- Anxiety and depression
- Losing weight rapidly
What Are The Causes Of Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)?
Scientists are not clear why Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis affects some individuals and not others. It is a degenerative and a progressive disease which affects the nerve cells of the brain and the spinal cord. These nerve cells are responsible for transmitting messages from the brain to the voluntary muscles. The voluntary muscles, on receiving a message from the brain via the nerve cells carry out the required function like walking, talking, swallowing etc. So, when these nerve cells are damaged by the disease, the brain fails to send messages or signals to the voluntary muscles to carry out the specified tasks. Since the muscles do not get signals from the brain, they become weak and stiff, and this is called atrophy. It becomes difficult to talk, walk, chew, swallow, pick things up and also to breathe.
Research shows that both environment and genetics play an important role in understanding the prevalence of this disease.
There are two types of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis:
Sporadic Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis: Around 95% of people with this disease are afflicted with sporadic ALS. It is the most common form and it happens without a cause.
Familial Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis: This condition runs in families with a 50% chance of a parent afflicted with ALS passing the faulty gene to the offspring.
What Are The Things One Should Do To Manage Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)?
Since there is no cure for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, most of the treatment approach is towards the management of the disease. Other than medications, physical therapy is very important to relax the stiffened muscles and try to keep muscles in working condition as long as one can.
- Appoint a physiotherapist who will guide you through the exercises beneficial to the muscles.
- See a speech therapist who will help with slurred speech and will teach alternate ways of communicating.
- Seek the help of an occupational therapist who will suggest methods and ways which will help you to independently perform your daily activities.
- In some cases, breathing therapy is required when the patient experiences difficulty in breathing. Specialists provide machines which will help in breathing.
- Seeing a nutritionist is very important in cases where the patient has problems in swallowing. The nutritionist will chalk out a plan which will meet the body’s nutritional requirements.
What Are The Things One Should Avoid To Manage Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)?
While doing physical therapy, take care of the following things:
- Do not do any type of exercise at the point of exertion.
- Do not over spend energy on the exercises. Save it to perform your daily activities.
- Do not push yourself too much. You must not feel pain while doing exercise next day.
- Take sufficient rest between the exercises.
What Are The Best Foods For Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)?
Nutrition plays a very important role in ALS. Since the patient loses weight constantly and faces difficulty in swallowing food, he is advised to take the help of a nutritionist to determine caloric needs and the type of food to be consumed. To maintain weight, more calories need to be consumed. Calories can be added by:
- Use full-fat whole milk instead of skimmed milk.
- Have milkshakes and smoothies made with ice creams.
- Use butter, cream, and mayonnaise while cooking.
- Studies show that carotenoids lower the risk of ALS. Carotenoids are found in brightly colored fruits and vegetables. Yellow, orange, deep green and red colored fruits and vegetables should be incorporated into the diet.
Include the following in your diet:
- Kale, broccoli, oranges, blue berries, mango, papaya, green leafy vegetables, tomatoes, red beans, cranberries, spinach, etc. Also, include nuts like cashew nuts and pumpkin seeds.
- For protein, choose lean meat and eggs along with pulses and beans.
- For fats, try to eat healthy fats like olive oil and canola oil.
- Drink enough water to stay hydrated.
When the patient is unable to swallow food, a feeding tube is introduced so that body continues to get sufficient nutrition.
What Are The Worst Foods For Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)?
There is no such list which can constitute as worst food for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. But certain researchers believe that a chemical produced by algae blooms is connected to it. Marine life consumes this chemical, and hence, some scientists suggest avoiding seafood. But there is no evidence to prove this theory.
Studies show that eating refined and highly processed food is not good for health and the synthetic chemicals used in processing may expose a person to many diseases, including Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis.
What Are The Medicines For Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)?
What Are The Tips To Manage Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)?
Since it does not have a cure and the symptoms impair a person to such an extent that he faces huge difficulties in performing everyday activities, the patients require counseling and support to give them strength and uplift their spirits. Along with medical treatment, therapy in various ways like physical, speech, occupational and emotional is the only hope to combat the disease and relieve symptoms to a certain extent.