Lou Gehrig’s disease or Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) is a progressive disorder which affects the spinal cord and brain, damaging the motor neurons which control the muscle movement. It is also known as motor neuron disease. The disease got its name as Lou Gehrig’s disease after New York Yankees’ baseball player Lou Gehrig was diagnosed with it in 1930s. Overtime the ALS patients suffer from muscle spasticity and muscle atrophy, difficulty in breathing, speaking and swallowing.
Cause of Lou Gehrig’s Disease
ALS is a rare disorder and out of 100,000 people only 1 to 3 suffers from it annually. The causes of the disease are unknown to this date. It is more common in men than in women and usually people from age 50 to 70 years suffers from it. Though, there are some cases of children and young adults suffering from ALS. It is a non-contagious disease and in some of the cases appears to be passed on to generations. Some of the potential causes for ALS could be head trauma, physical trauma, full-contact sports, exposure to chemicals or electromagnetic fields, or military services. But there are no conclusive evidences to support this. Some researches link ALS with blue-green algae contaminated foods.
Symptoms of Lou Gehrig’s Disease
Initially the person suffering from Lou Gehrig’s disease feels weakness in muscles in the arms and legs. Other symptoms are excessive tripping or falling, twitching of muscles, dropping objects, muscle stiffness and cramps. Overtime the patient may also feel choking and find it difficult to breathe, speak, swallow, and moving tongue. He or she may also have abnormal reflexes and also experience emotional lability or Pseudobulbar affect, which includes uncontrollable and involuntary crying or laughing. As the disease progress the patient will be unable to walk or use hands. Eventually, he or she will end up on BiPAP.
The symptoms and rate of progression varies from patient to patient. Some people have slower progression and others have faster progression. In the last stage, the patient is not able to swallow or chew at all which increases the risk of choking. BiPAP is used to support breathing and feeding tubes are required. Most patients suffering from ALS die of respiratory problems. Usually the life of the patient is about three to five years since the earliest symptoms begin. No more than four percent of the ALS patients survive more than ten years. However, Stephen Hawking, a renowned physicist, who was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease at the age of 21 years, lived for 50 years since then.
Prevention and Treatment of Lou Gehrig’s Disease
There is no way of preventing and curing Lou Gehrig’s disease mostly because its cause is yet unknown. There is no sure method of even diagnosing the ALS. The physician can only observe the symptoms and do a series of tests to rule out the possibility of other diseases. It may take several months to be sure that the patient is suffering from ALS.
The only approved medicine for ALS is Rilutek, which though cannot cure the disease but can only extend the survival by a few months. It can also prolong the time when the patient is required to go on ventilation support. Some medications can be taken for relieving the symptoms, like reducing weariness and easing cramps. Patients can also use prescribed drugs to relieve the pain, sleeping disorders and depression. Physical therapist can improve the overall quality of the patient’s life and are helpful in rehabilitation. Professional therapists can assist the patient with gentle exercise to keep him comfortable, independent and mobile. Some of the stretching exercises can also help in reducing the muscle spasm. They also have equipments which will enable the patient to remain safe and independent in daily activities.
Special attention should be given to the nutrition of ALS patients. Some studies also say that those who eat colorful vegetables and fruits can prevent Lou Gehrig’s disease. The colorful vegetables like red and yellow bell peppers, dark green spinach, carrots, tomatoes, etc contains carotenoids which helps boosting the immune system and reducing the chance of Lou Gehrig’s disease. Some studies also suggest that high antioxidants intake like Vitamin E can also reduce the risk of ALS.