Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a rapidly progressing neurological (nervous system) disease. Sometimes called Lou Gehrig's disease, ALS belongs to a group of disorders known as motor neuron diseases.
ALS attacks nerve cells, called motor neurons, that control voluntary muscles (the muscles we are able to control). This leads to progressive weakness and disability. When these cells die, voluntary muscle control and movement are lost. People with ALS eventually lose their strength, ability to move their arms, legs, and body, and the ability to breathe on their own. In most cases, their minds remain sharp and alert.
The average life expectancy for people with ALS is 2 to 5 years. However, ALS is a variable disease that progresses at different rates for different people.
If you think you or your loved one has ALS, or you have already been diagnosed with ALS, it is important to talk to your healthcare provider (HCP) and ask about your treatment options as soon as possible.
While ALS is a rare disease, it is one of the most common neuromuscular conditions. Sometimes ALS is inherited, but in most cases, there is no known cause. ALS is not contagious.
ALS more commonly affects white men, non-Hispanics, and people aged 60 to 69. But younger and older people can develop ALS. Men are more likely to develop ALS than women.
The ALS Association reports that:
- 6000 people per year are diagnosed with ALS in the US
- 20,000 people in the US may currently have ALS
- 5% to 10% of ALS cases are inherited
- 90% to 95% of ALS cases have no clearly associated risk factors and their family members are not at increased risk for developing it
Not all people experience the same symptoms or progression with ALS. Some early signs and symptoms of ALS include:
- Difficulty walking or doing normal daily activities
- Tripping, falling, and dropping things
- Abnormal weakness or tiredness in your arms, legs, feet, or ankles
- Hand weakness or clumsiness
- Slurred speech or trouble swallowing
- Muscle cramps and twitches in your arms, shoulders, and tongue
- Difficulty holding your head up or keeping good posture
There is currently no cure for ALS. However, there are many medications that are used to help relieve symptoms, such as muscle cramps and fatigue, although they are not indicated to treat the disease. There are also 2 prescription medications that are FDA-approved for the treatment of ALS:
- Riluzole (also known as Rilutek®) was approved in 1995
- Radicava® (edaravone) was approved in 2017
In clinical trials, Radicava® was shown to slow decline in the loss of functional ability in people with ALS (learn more). Radicava® may be received on its own or along with riluzole.
Managing ALS takes a multidisciplinary approach, which allows people with ALS to receive care from professionals with different areas of expertise. If you think you have ALS, talk to your HCP today. He or she will assess your condition and may refer you to an ALS clinic, where you can meet with many different medical experts during a single visit.
Also, be sure to ask your HCP about available treatments, such as Radicava®. Your HCP can help you decide which options are right for you.