What is ALS? Can it be prevented?

Health tips

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, also known as ALS, is a neurodegenerative disease that affect the motor cells, responsible for transmitting the order of the voluntary movement from the brain to the muscles, and results in a progressive deterioration of the patient’s mobility.

It affects 3.5 people in every 100,000 inhabitants and it is known to be the third most common neurodegenerative disease, right after Alzheimer and Parkinson. Only in Spain, there are 3.000 ALS patients and three new cases are diagnosed every day.

It is considered a rare disease, since its causes are not totally known and its cure is yet to be discovered. The most we can do with the current knowledge on ALS is to slightly slow down the deterioration and try to improve the quality of life of the patients.

Further investigation on ALS is needed. This is why today, June 21st, we commemorate the Global ALS Awareness Day in order to demand more funds for the research on this disease and help the patients to endure it the best possible way.

In Clinica Excelan, we want to contribute to the awareness-raising about ALS, so, in this article, we are going to explain you all you need to know about this rare disease.

How can you know if you are affected by ALS?

As we said before, ALS destroys the motor neurons, so the nervous connection between the brain and the muscles disappears, meaning that the patient is less and less able to move over time.

As the muscles do not receive nervous impulses, they get atrophied, causing a progressive paralysis that not only affect the limbs, but also the speech, breath and swallow abilities.

Despite its severe impact on the motor ability, ALS does not usually affect the cognition, what means that, even unable to move, the patient is still able to think normally and is completely aware of his disease.

What is more, ALS does not usually hinder the ability to perceive the environment around either, so the patient is able to see, smell, hear and notice taste and touch senses as always.

On its first stage, ALS is hardly noticeable. Before spreading to the whole body, it is usually localised in only one part. So, first symptoms of ALS can be an inability to correctly coordinate the legs when walking or running, a difficulty to use the hands and arms for easy tasks like, for instance, button your shirt up, or problems when speaking, chewing or swallowing.

It is important to go see a qualified neurologist as soon as these first symptoms appear, since an early diagnose will make possible a better treatment for the disease.

What causes ALS?

The actual processes that produce ALS are yet to discover, so most of the evidence found on this disease is based on statistics.

ALSis usually first diagnosed after the age of 40 and before exceeding 70 years old. However, even if unlikely, it can still affect younger and older people. It is also slightly more common among men, since only 4 on every 10 patients are women.

Only about the 10% of ALS cases are due to hereditary conditions. This means that, if a relative of yours has suffered ALS, you will be a little more prone to endure it. Furthermore, it also means that the causes of the 90% of the cases are not known at all.

The vast majority of ALS diagnoses are considered sporadic, that is, they seem to be randomly caused, without any apparent risk factor.

However, some experts believe that some environmental issues could raise the risk of suffering ALS. Thus, the disease might be related to the exposure to certain toxic or chemical substances, excessive physical efforts, smoking or traumas, among others. Nonetheless, there is not enough evidence to be certain of the actual impact of these external factors.

How is ALS treated?

There is not a known cure for ALS. The only medicine with proven effectiveness to treat ALS is Riluzol, which only slows the disease’s progression down, but cannot reverse it.

So, at the moment, the most the doctors can do to treat ALS patients is to ease the symptoms and try to improve the patient’s quality of life, extending his autonomy and raising his life expectancy.

On this sense, there is evidence that shows that the comprehensive multidisciplinary, attention provided by a group of specialised doctors, actually improves the quality of life of the patient and positively contributes to lengthen the progression of the disease.

To do so, a coordinated work of more than 13 specialists is needed, who will provide medical and social customised attention to the patient and his family.

The Global ALS Awareness Day

As you can see, we are still miles away from defeating ALS. In the last years, we have achieved important progress, but there is still a lot to do. That is why we need more investigation on this disease, so we can finally discover what triggers ALS, in order to prevent it, and we can develop a cure.

That is the raison d’être of the Global ALS Awareness Day, organised by patients’ associations worldwide with the objective of raising awareness about ALS and demanding more funds for research on this disease.

Clinica Excelan is a private GP centre absolutely committed to help ALS patients in Marbella and Costa del Sol. Thanks to our palliative care and hospital at home service, we look after our patients on the comfort of their own home to make sure they feel safe and well-treated at any moment.

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