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What is ALS Disease?

By August 14, 2019Chronic Disease

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a serious medical condition that involves the gradual breakdown of nerve cells in the brain and the spinal column. Unfortunately, ALS causes the loss of muscle control. It is better known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease — named after the baseball player who developed ALS in the 1930s. 

Since then, there have been advances in ALS treatment. However, Lou Gehrig’s Disease is still incurable. That said, the condition can be managed to help ensure that the afflicted patient is able to live the highest possible quality of life. A person dealing with ALS can benefit from home healthcare services

How Common is Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)?

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) is a relatively rare medical condition. According to data provided by Johns Hopkins Medicine, around 30,000 people are currently living with ALS in the United States — and approximately 5,000 new cases are diagnosed each year. (ALS – Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis).

While Lou Gehrig’s Disease can affect anybody, it typically develops in people who are over the age of 40. Johns Hopkins Medicine notes that this is still a mystifying disease. While research suggests that there is at least a partial genetic component, the overwhelming majority of people who develop ALS have no prior documented family history of this disease.       

ALS: A Progressive Neurodegenerative Disease

Lou Gehrig’s Disease is characterized by a degeneration in the motor nerve cells in both the brain and the spinal cord. These are referred to as the upper motor neurons and the lower motor neurons respectively. Essentially, the condition prevents a person’s body from sending impulses to their muscles. Tragically, it gets worse and worse over time, slowly resulting in increasingly severe loss of muscle control. 

Though, to be clear, ALS generally does not affect most non-muscle related issues. There are many misconceptions about this fact. Indeed, most patients who develop Lou Gehrig’s Disease do not experience cognitive impairment. Further, in the majority of ALS patients, hearing, vision, touch, sexual functioning, and bladder/bowel control are largely unaffected by the condition. However, there are exceptions. 

The Early Symptoms of ALS

One of the major challenges in diagnosing ALS is that the earliest symptoms can vary quite a bit from person to person. It is not always immediately obvious to the patient who is dealing with the condition that something is wrong. Specifically, the most common early warning symptoms of Lou Gehrig’s Disease are as follows: 

  • Trouble grasping objects;
  • Frequently dropping of things;
  • Unusual changes in speaking pitch; 
  • Other vocal cord issues;
  • Slurred speeches;
  • Tripping or stumbling;
  • Unusual levels of fatigue; 
  • Muscle cramps; and
  • Uncontrollable twitching. 

As was mentioned previously, ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative medical condition. As a general rule, the symptoms will start out fairly minor. Though, unfortunately, within a relatively short period of time, what were initially just the early warning symptoms of ALS may be far more severe. It may not be long until a patient needs permanent breathing support.  

Treatment Options for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis 

Sadly, ALS cannot be cured at the current time. Treatment focuses on slowing the development of the condition and helping the patient manage the adverse effects on a day-to-to basis. As a starting point, there are some prescription medications available for people who have Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Some of the medications are prescribed to control muscle spasms, other medications are given to the patient to help minimize the physical pain that is associated with the ALS. 

In many cases, home healthcare services are required — especially as the disease gradually becomes more pronounced. One of the primary safety issues is that ALS can make it difficult to swallow. Choking becomes a very serious safety hazard in the late stage of Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Specialized home healthcare professionals can help patients deal with this and other issues related to their condition.  

We Provide Free Home Health Services to EEOICPA and RECA Beneficiaries

At United Energy Workers Healthcare and Four Corners Health Care, our family-based companies are committed to providing the best home health care services to EEOICPA and RECA recipients. If you or your elderly loved one is dealing with ALS or any related condition, we are here to help you explore all the available options for home healthcare treatment. To learn more about what we can do for you, please contact our home healthcare professionals today.