Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS): What is it?

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, more commonly known as ALS, is the most common type of motor neuron disease. It refers to a group of progressive, neurological diseases that cause dysfunction in the nerves that control muscle movement. As ALS progresses, these cells degenerate and die; and stop sending messages to muscles. Therefore, this leads to muscle weakness and the inability to control voluntary movement. In the early stages of ALS symptoms may be minimal, but they worsen over time.

Common symptoms include:

  • difficulty carrying out daily activities, including walking
  • increased clumsiness
  • weakness in the feet, hands, legs, and ankles
  • cramping and twitching in the arms, shoulders, or tongue
  • difficulty maintaining good posture and holding the head up
  • uncontrolled outbursts of laughing or crying, known as emotional lability
  • cognitive changes
  • slurring of speech and difficulty with voice projection
  • pain
  • fatigue
  • problems with saliva, and mucus
  • difficulty breathing and swallowing, in the later stages

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that worldwide ALS affects between 2 to 5 people in every 100,000. Half of all people with ALS will live for 3 or more years after being diagnosed. Around 20 percent of people will live 5 years or more after diagnosis, 10 percent will live for 10 years or more, and 5 percent will live for 20 years.

Although there is no cure to ALS, there are treatments available to relieve symptoms and improve quality of life. Different therapies are commonly used to help alleviate the symptoms of ALS.

  • Physical therapy can help people with ALS manage pain and address mobility issues.
  • Occupational therapy can help train patients to compensate for hand and arm weaknesses
  • Breathing therapy may be required as the respiratory muscles get weaker.
  • Speech therapy helps patients with ALS in teaching them adaptive techniques when speaking becomes a challenge. Patients can learn to use computer-based communication equipment.
  • Nutritional support is needed when patients with ALS begin to have difficulty with swallowing.

For more information on amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), visit the Medical News Today at If you are interested in donating to help find a cure for ALS visit the ALS Association at If you or your loved one has ALS and is looking for a home health aide to help care for them, call us today for a free consultation at (212) 828-4545.