What is ALS disease?


We have all witnessed and maybe were involved in the current ALS Ice Bucket Challenge campaign to raise awareness about the ALS disease and encourage donations for research in this field.

But what does ALS stand for and what are the implications of the ALS disease?

According to the ALS Association, Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), often referred to as Lou Gehrig's Disease, is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. Motor neurons reach from the brain to the spinal cord and from the spinal cord to the muscles throughout the body. The progressive degeneration of the motor neurons in ALS eventually leads to their death. When the motor neurons die, the ability of the brain to initiate and control muscle movement is lost. With voluntary muscle action progressively affected, patients in the later stages of the disease may become totally paralyzed.

As motor neurons degenerate, they can no longer send impulses to the muscle fibers that normally result in muscle movement. Early symptoms of ALS often include increasing muscle weakness, especially involving the arms and legs, speech, swallowing or breathing. When muscles no longer receive the messages from the motor neurons that they require to function, the muscles begin to atrophy (become smaller). Limbs begin to look thinner as muscle tissue atrophies.

Although the cause of ALS is not completely understood, the recent years have brought a wealth of new scientific understanding regarding the physiology of this disease.

Importantly, there are significant devices and therapies that can manage the symptoms of ALS that help people maintain as much independence as possible and prolong survival. It is important to remember that ALS is a quite variable disease; no two people will have the same journey or experiences. There are medically documented cases of people in whom ALS ‘burns out,’ stops progressing or progresses at a very slow rate....

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