Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also called Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a progressive, fatal neurological disease that affects many Australians.

ALS belongs to the class of disorders known as motor-neurone diseases.

It occurs when specific nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that control voluntary movement gradually degenerate. The loss of these motor neurons causes the muscles under their control to weaken and waste away, leading to paralysis.

ALS manifests itself in different ways, depending on which muscles weaken first. It’s usually fatal within five years after diagnosis.

ALS strikes in mid-life, and men are about one-and-a-half times more likely to have the disease than women. 10% of all cases of ALS are familial (i.e. there’s an underlying genetic cause).

Symptoms

Symptoms may include the following:

• Tripping and falling
• Loss of motor control in hands and arms
• Difficulty speaking, swallowing and/or breathing
• Persistent fatigue.
• Twitching and cramping, sometimes quite severely

Treatment

There’s no cure for ALS, nor is there a proven therapy that will prevent or reverse the course of the disorder.

However, according to MND Australia, a drug called riluzole is now available in this country for the treatment of symptoms. This so-called anti-glutamate medication blocks the release of glutamate from nerve cells. People who start taking this medication early in the course of the disease remain in the milder stages of the disease for longer.

Patients may also receive supportive treatments that address some of their symptoms.

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