What Is ALS Disease: Motor Neuron Disease Symptoms

Lou Gehrig’s Disease or better known as ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) is a neurodegenerative neurological disease (deterioration of the CNS neurons). In Lou Gehrig’s disease, the CNS neurons will begin to deteriorate and eventually die. Efferent neurons send messages from the CNS to the voluntary muscles (striated, skeletal muscles that are controlled by will). In the early stage of the disease, an individual may begin to experience some mild signs and symptoms, while they may be bothersome, they are often ignored. Some early signs include;
  • Slurred Speech
  • Dysphagia (Difficulty Swallowing)
  • Dyspnea (Shortness Of Breath)
  • Hoarseness

Over time the condition will worsen and the signs and symptoms will become more severe. The motor neurons will no longer be able to send messages to the muscles, which will eventually lead to muscle atrophy (wasting away). 
  • Fasciculations (Muscle Twitching)
  • Voluntary Muscle Weakness
  • Spasticity (Muscle Stiffness)
  • Neck Muscle Weakness (Head Drooping)
  • Abnormal Gait
The later stages of the disease will normally end with paralysis, the inability to breath, which will lead to the need of mechanical ventilation, and eventually death. Most ALS victims do not survive more than five years, after diagnosis, but in rare cases some have lived for up to ten years post diagnosis. ALS normally does not affect the memory, thought pattern, bowel and bladder function, or the five senses. One will become so debilitated that they will be totally reliant on others. With the loss of the gag reflex and inability to swallow, a percutaneous endoscopic gastronomy will be required to place a tube into the stomach for mechanical feedings. 
There is no clear cause for ALS, but one out of 10 cases have been noted as being linked to genetic causes. Familial ALS is potentially caused by a defective gene, which prevents the body from producing a sufficient amount of the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase. There are no other risk factors except for the family history of hereditary form of the disease. 
More men are diagnosed with ALS than women, between the ages of 40-70. The diagnosis process begins with a complete physical and medical history. Diagnostic tests include;
  • Pulmonary Function Test (Tests for Lung Diseases & Other Causes Of Dyspnea)
  • Computed Tomography Of Spine
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging Of Spine
  • Electromyography (Evaluates & Records Skeletal Muscle’s Electrical Activity)
  • Known Family History Genetic Testing Will Be Order
  • Lumbar Puncture (Spinal Tap)
  • Barium Swallow

ALS is an incurable disease. Physical and occupational therapy may be required to prolong the mobility function and decrease pain. Speech therapy will also be ordered to diagnose the severity of dysphagia and gag reflex. Palliative care will be order in the later stages of the disease.