Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) -Symptoms and Causes - How to Prevent ALS

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), is a progressive nervous system disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord and causes the death of neurons controlling voluntary muscle movements such as walking and talking.
The most common initial symptoms of ALS include: progressive muscle weakness, muscle cramps and twitches, abnormal fatigue of the arms and/or legs, dropping things and slurred speech.
The exact cause of ALS is unknown, but genetics and environmental factors can be involved.
ALS requires medical diagnosis such as lab tests or imaging and others.
The treatment can help relieve symptoms, slow disease progression and provide social and emotional support but this condition can't be cured.
Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis - ALS
Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) -Symptoms and Causes - How to Prevent ALS

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) –Symptoms, Causes and Complications - How to Prevent ALS

What is Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)?

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) refers to a group of progressive, neurological diseases that attacks the motor neurons responsible for the functioning of the voluntary muscles.
This in turn will lead to muscle weakness and accompanied by changes in how the body works.
As ALS affects the nerves that control breathing, this may be fatal.

Other names of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis are motor neuron disease (MND), Lou Gehrig's disease, and Charcot's disease.

Motor neurons are found in both the brain and spinal cord.
The voluntary muscles are the muscles we can control, such as those in the arms, face, and legs.

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis affects all voluntary muscles as it progresses.
As the stages of ALS progress, the motor neurons degrade and die, thereby stopping the transmission of signals to the muscles. The muscles weaken and become functionless and the brain can no longer control voluntary movement.

Patients with ALS will not be able to control their arms, legs, and face, and sometimes it can lead to failure of the breathing process due to difficulty and inability to breathe normally.

Most people with ALS live for 3 to 5 years after symptoms first appear, but only about 10 percent of patients will live for another 10 years or more.

According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), located in Atlanta, Georgia, the United States of America, in the USA, 14,500 to 15,000 people had ALS in 2016, and approximately 5,000 people receive a diagnosis annually.
It is believed that ALS affects 2 to 5 people worldwide out of every 100,000 people.

The most important diagnostic test for ALS is Electromyography (EMG), which measures muscle response or electrical activity in response and shows the dysfunction of the motor neuron at a time when the sensory nerves operate normally.

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Types of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)

There are two types of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS): Sporadic ALS and Familial ALS.

Sporadic ALS: It may happen sometimes without a clear cause and affect anyone, anywhere. Up to 95% of people are affected by the disease.

Familial ALS: It relates to the family history of the disease and runs in families. This constitutes 5 to 10% of all cases of ALS.

Symptoms of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis

The signs and symptoms of ALS usually begin to appear when a person becomes in their late fifties or early sixties, but this is not necessary as it may also occur at other ages.

The symptoms of ALS vary from one person to another because they depend on which neurons are affected.

The progression of the disease varies from person to person, as in the early stages, signs and symptoms of ALS may be hardly noticeable on the patient, but the weakness that accompanies the disease becomes more evident over time.

Common symptoms of ALS include:
  • Difficulty walking or doing normal daily activities.
  • Difficulty maintaining a good standing posture and holding the head.
  • Weakness in your feet, hands, legs, and ankles.
  • Tripping and falling.
  • Feeling pain and tired.
  • Muscle cramps and twitching in the arms, shoulders and tongue.
  • Increase in strange movements and decrease in fitness.
  • Cognitive and behavioral changes.
  • Problems with swallowing saliva and mucus.
  • Slurred speech or trouble swallowing and difficulty making sounds.
  • Difficulty breathing and swallowing, and often occur in later advanced stages.
  • Uncontrollable periods of laughing or crying, known as emotional twists and turns.
Often early symptoms of ALS disease involve foolish behavior, lack of agility, abnormal fatigue of the limbs, muscle cramps and twitches and heavy talk.
As ALS progresses, the symptoms can spread to all parts of the body.
A sense of muscle weakness occurs in all different conditions of the disease, and this may not be the first sign of ALS.

In other cases, some people may experience decision-making and memory problems, which will eventually result in a form of dementia called frontal dementia.

What Causes Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)?

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) - Symptoms and causes

Causes of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis

The real and direct cause of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is still unknown.
Several mechanisms have been presented as pathogens.
The possible causes of ALS include:

Mishandling of proteins: Several compounds, such as aluminum, have been found with a high concentration in food, so that a change in diet has led to a sharp decrease in the number of patients in that region.
If proteins are not converted properly by neurons, abnormal proteins are likely to accumulate and cause the death of nerve cells.

Disorganized immune response: It is found that the immune cells of patients with ALS may play a significant role in damaging the neurons in the spinal cord and possibly killing nerve cells.

Chemical imbalance: Another mechanism that was shown was a high concentration of glutamate, a neurotransmitter in the brain, near motor neurons, that stimulates nerve cells.
It has been shown that glutamate levels are often higher in people with ALS and the presence of glutamate in large quantities is toxic to nerve cells.

Risk Factors for ALS
Established risk factors for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis may include:

Heredity: If someone has familial ALS, their children are more likely to develop ALS later. It has been found that 5 to 10% of people with ALS have inherited the disease.

Genetics: Researchers have found that there are many similarities in the genetic variations of people with non-inherited ALS and those with familial ALS. These genetic variations may lead people to develop ALS.
In some genetic cases, genetic deficiency has been identified. This genetic deficiency causes disruption in the production of "free radicals" whose job/function is to eliminate/neutralize the effectiveness of toxic substances. These substances can cause nerve cell death.

Gender: Men are more susceptible to developing ALS than women before the age of 65 and after the age of 70, both may develop equally and the sex difference disappears.

Age: ALS is most common between the ages of forty and mid-sixties and the risk of ALS increases with age.

Environmental factors:
Environmental factors may also play a role in the occurrence of the disease. The following environmental factors may cause ALS:

Exposure to environmental toxins: The exposure to lead or other substances at home or in the workplace may be invariably associated with ALS.
Excess of this substance and the increased activation of nerve cells can cause serious damage to the cell, to the point of its death completely.

Smoking: Smoking can also be an environmental risk factor for ALS. For women, the risk appears to be greater, especially after menopause.

Military service: The study report indicates that people who served in the military are more at risk of developing ALS.
In the service, military personnel has to deal with traumatic injuries, high levels of exercise, viral infections, extreme stress, and exposure to certain metals or chemicals.
One study stated that military personnel who completed their service in the Gulf region during the 1991 war were more susceptible to the development of ALS than military personnel and conscripts who were deployed elsewhere in the world.
However, it is not clear what military service might lead to the development of ALS.

All the risk factors mentioned here, are not confirmed with any certainty, except for the genetic factor, and it is possible that the overlap between several factors is the cause of the disease.

Read here: Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis - Diagnosis and Treatment - Care Tips for living with ALS

What are the Complications of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis?

Possible complications of ALS include:
  • Progressive inability to perform daily life activities
  • Speaking problems
  • Breathing problems
  • Breathing in food or fluid (aspiration)
  • Eating problems
  • Loss of ability to care for self
  • Lung failure
  • Pressure sores
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Dementia
  • Pneumonia

How to Prevent ALS

Eat Colored fruits and vegetables: Eating brightly colored foods, especially those that are orange, yellow and red, can prevent or slow the onset of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
Consume 3-4 servings of leafy green vegetables per week and eat foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids 3-4 times a week.

Take vitamin A transporter: A German study suggests that high levels of a protein that transports vitamin A to the body may help protect you from the development and progression of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

Take vitamin E supplements: According to a study published online in the Annals of Neurology on November 4, 2004, prolonged use of vitamin E supplements can reduce the risk of Lou Gehrig's Disease (ALS).
But before taking these supplements, ask your doctor if they are right for you.

Diagnose the disease: Do a genetic test to see if you carry the gene for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, watch out for basic signs of ALS and see your doctor at the first sign of possible symptoms.
If there are signs that indicate you have been diagnosed with ALS, then avoid training and heavy exercise to preserve your muscles.

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The Scientific World is a Scientific and Technical Information Network that provides readers with informative & educational blogs and articles. Site Admin: Mahtab Alam Quddusi - Blogger, writer and digital publisher.

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