A degenerative motor neuron disease, ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) destroys the healthy nerve cells and leads to permanent disability in its final stages. Often, it is also referred as the Lou Gehrig’s disease, after a celebrated baseball player who was diagnosed with it.
Some of the common symptoms of ALS are muscle pain and stiffness, twitching, and weakness in muscles, difficulty in swallowing food, slurred speech, increased clumsiness, and poor posture due to the inability to hold the body, etc. As the condition progresses, the symptoms begin to worsen. It usually starts from the hands and limbs and then gradually spreads to the other parts of the body.
Initially, the signs can be misinterpreted as a different problem; therefore, identifying it is not easy. Doctors will recommend one with a range of tests such as EMG (electromyography), NCS (nerve conduction study), MRI, blood and urine examination, etc. Unfortunately, currently ALS has no cure, but there are treatments available which will help the patient cope with the complications. These include medications, physical and speech therapy, breathing, and nutritional support.
Risk factors of ALS
The reason behind the occurrence of ALS is not entirely understood, as several aspects come into play such as immune response, chemical imbalance, gene mutation, etc. However, some of the verified risk factors for ALS are as follows:
- Family history – Approximately 5% to 10% of the individuals who are suffering from ALS have inherited it. This medical condition is termed as familial ALS. The children of the families who have a history with ALS have a 50–50 chance of inheriting it.
- Gender – Comparatively men are more likely to develop ALS than women when the age frame falls below 65 years. However, this pattern is not observed in patients who are aged 70 and above.
- Genetics – Certain researchers have studied the human genome and discovered several similarities in the gene variations between people who have inherited familial ALS and those who have non-inherited ALS. This might make more individuals vulnerable to ALS.
- Age – As the age progresses, the risk of developing ALS will increase too. Most people who have ALS are above the age of 40.
Apart from the ALS risk factors mentioned above, here are some environmental factors that can initiate the condition.
- Exposure to toxins – Some medical investigations suggest that exposure to high levels of toxins in home or workplace can cause ALS. Although experts have conducted several types of research, but they haven’t been able to zero down on a single compound that is responsible for the onset of ALS.
- Military service – A rather odd observation, there has been substantial evidence that links ALS to people who have worked in the military. It is not exactly clear why this association exists. However, experts assume that since military personnel regularly come in contact with certain kinds of chemicals used in weapons or suffer from high level of stress, viral infections, or traumatic injuries, it has boosted their susceptibility to ALS.
- Cigarette smoking – Smoking especially for women increases the chances of ALS, typically after going through menopause.