Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)
Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also called Lou Gehrig’s Disease or Motor Neuron Disease, is a progressive, neuromuscular disease that attacks nerve cells and pathways in the brain and spinal cord.
Motor neurons, among the largest of all nerve cells, reach from the brain to the spinal cord and from the spinal cord to muscles throughout the body. When these motor neurons die, the brain can no longer start and control muscle movement.
Some patients become aware of the onset of the disease when their hands become clumsy, causing difficulty in the performance of tasks like unlocking doors or writing. Others experience weakness in the legs and may trip or stumble. Other people notice they have problems speaking or difficulty swallowing. ALS may be present for some time before any symptoms are noticed.
There is no specific clinical test that can identify ALS. Diagnosis is made by a neurologist through a physical examination, a thorough patient medical history, and neurological testing. Diagnostic testing often includes the electromyogram (EMG) to test muscle activity, CT Scan or MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging), and extensive blood work. Sometimes muscle and/or nerve biopsies are performed. The diagnostic process involves ruling out other potential causes of the symptoms the person is exhibiting. Because there is no conclusive test, people may find themselves with a diagnosis of probable or possible ALS until further identifying symptoms appear.