DEFINITION--A progressive breakdown of the cells of the spinal cord, resulting
in gradual loss of muscle function. This is not contagious or cancerous. Symptoms may be
confused with neurologic complications of Lyme Disease.
BODY PARTS INVOLVED--Central nervous system; muscle system, especially in the
hands, forearms, legs, head and neck.
SEX OR AGE MOST AFFECTED--Men over age 40.
SIGNS & SYMPTOMS--
RISK INCREASES WITH
- Age over 40.
- Family history of ALS.
HOW TO PREVENT--Cannot be prevented at present.
What To Expect
- Your own observation of symptoms.
- Medical history and physical exam by a doctor.
- Laboratory studies, such as electromyography (See Glossary).
APPROPRIATE HEALTH CARE
- Self-care after diagnosis.
- Doctor's treatment.
- Psychotherapy or counseling to learn to cope with disability.
- Eventual hospitalization or medical facility care.
- Pressure sores caused by immobility.
- Pneumonia caused by swallowing difficulty and choking.
- The progressive physical degeneration affects the patient's relationships, career,
income, muscle coordination, sexuality and energy.
PROBABLE OUTCOME--This condition is currently considered incurable. It is
usually fatal. However, pain can be relieved or controlled. Scientific research into
causes and treatment continues, so there is hope for increasingly effective treatment and
How To Treat
- There is no specific treatment. Supportive care is provided to control symptoms and for
- Obtain good nursing care to prevent pressure sores.
- Learn to do self-suction in order to handle increased accumulation of secretions in the
- Patients may benefit from a hospice program or local chapter of the ALS support group
(see Resources for Additional Information).
MEDICATION--Your doctor may prescribe:
- Antibiotics to fight infection if pneumonia develops.
- Baclofen to help reduce spasticity.
- Antidepressant to help decrease saliva production.
- Stay as active as possible. Weakness will gradually limit capability. A rehabilitation
program can help in maintaining independence as long as possible.
- Obtain equipment that will aid in mobility, such as walker or wheelchair.
DIET--If swallowing is difficult, eat soft, easy-to-swallow foods. (See Soft
Diet in Appendix.)
Call Your Doctor If
- You have symptoms of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
- Coughing, choking or fever occurs after diagnosis.