ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) is a degenerative neurological disease of the parts of the nervous system that control voluntary muscle movement. Also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, named for the Yankees baseball player who died of it in 1941.

Those with ALS experience the loss of nerve cells that control their muscles and as a result the muscles become gradually weaker until the patient eventually becomes paralyzed. The cause in most cases of ALS is unknown and it can strike people of any age, though it usually strikes in late middle age.

The involuntary muscles, that control the heartbeat, gastrointestinal tract and bowel function, bladder and sexual functions are not directly affected in ALS.

Pain is not a direct consequence of the disorder, although moderate pain can occur as a result of immobility and its complications. Hearing, vision, touch and intellectual ability generally remain normal, however some may experience loss of control of emotional expressions, such as laughing or crying.

The typical survival rate for ALS patients is about three to five years after diagnosis, the cause is often respiratory failure. About ten percent of those with the disease live more than ten years, and some survive for decades.

Modern technology may have helped longevity statistics by to improve allowing those with almost no muscle function to continue to breathe, communicate, move about easier and to use a computer.

The American Academy of Neurology has currently issued guidelines for patients of ALS. Robert G. Miller, M.D. of California Pacific Medical Center stated, “While we are waiting for a cure, people need to know that a lot can be done to make life easier and longer for people with ALS.”

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Some of the guidelines for treatment that have been suggested by Dr. Miller and his medical team are:

Riluzole – the only drug recommended by the Food and Drug Administration for ALS, it is recommended regardless of disease stage.

A feeding tube should be offered if there is a problem swallowing and chewing.

Non-invasive ventilation should be offered at the earliest signs of respiratory insufficiency.

An assisted cough device should be offered for the patient with a weak cough.

For excessive saliva that does not respond to oral medications, the patient should be offered botulinum toxin, to control drooling.

The patient should be encouraged to attend a specialized multidisciplinary ALS clinic. These clinics offer specialists that work together to provide coordinated care for the ALS patient. Most often, those that attend the clinics enjoy a better quality of life and survive longer.

Sources: Neurology Now, an official publication of the American Academy of Neurology. Website:

Quote: Robert G. Miller, M.D. of California Pacific Medical Center