ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease ot motor neuron disease, is a rapidly progressive fatal neuromuscular disease. It is characterized by degeneration of a select group of nerve cells and pathways in the brain and spinal cord, which lead to progressive paralysis of the muscles.
Appoximately 2,500 – 3,500 Canadians over 18 currently live with ALS. The number of new diagnoses of ALS is estimated to be 2/100,000 people per year. The mortality rate of ALS is 2/100,000 annually.
There is no cure for ALS – yet.
Who Gets ALS?
ALS can strike anyone. It can hit at anytime, regardless of age, sex or ethnic origin. In at least 90% of cases it strikes people with no family history of the disease but there is a hereditary pattern in a small percentage of cases.
What are the early symptoms?
The symptoms and the area of the body first affected can vary from person to person. Typically ALS involves muscle weakness, fatigue, wasting, stiffness, loss of tone, cramping, twitching and hyper- and hypo-reflexion. The onset of the disease may occur in nerves associated with muscles of the upper or lower limbs, the throat, or the upper chest area. In rare cases, the muscles involved in breathing are first affected. These symptoms can result in decreased co-ordination in the hands, tripping and falling, weight loss, and difficulty swallowing, speaking, or breathing.
What are the effects of ALS?
Progressive paralysis of the voluntary muscles involved leads to loss of mobility, a decline in breathing function, difficulty eating and drinking by mouth, as well as speech problems such as slurring and low-volume output. Not every person with ALS will experience all symptoms or have all areas of the body affected during their course of illness. ALS is usually but not always, fatal within two to five years after diagnosis; however, there are several options available to help manage the disease and preserve quality of life. Some cognitive abilities may also be affected, but ALS does not usually involve loss of sensory function – taste, touch, sight, smell and hearing.
Is there hope for people with ALS?
At the present time, there is no treatment that significantly prolongs life for people living with ALS. Researchers are investigating ways to reverse the disease, and there may eventually be a cure for ALS. For the latest information on ALS research, visit ALS Canada’s website – www.als.ca.