Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis or ALS is more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease because the famous baseball player contracted it and ultimately died from it at age 37. ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects the spinal cord and nerve cells in the brain. After diagnosis, the expected life span of a patient suffering from the disease is less than five years. It is a progressive disease that eventually and inevitably leads to death.
Unfortunately, there is no known cure for this fatal disease. Riluzole, however, has been approved by the Federal Drug Administration for use in treating ALS. Although this drug does not repair damage already done, it does slow the decline, extending the life of the patient for several months. It also delays the time when life support means will be necessary. Riluzole decreases the release of glutamate, which will reduce damage to motor neurons. This new drug instills hope in ALS patients and their families that there may one day be a cure for the disease.
Other treatments for the disease are designed to improve the quality of life in an ALS patient. Because the muscles deteriorate until they no longer function and this happens at varying speeds, a physician will be able to develop a medical plan that is best suited for the individual. Each case should be evaluated for the progression and severity of symptoms at that period.
Drugs such as ibuprofen will relieve general pain and it is commonly used to enhance comfort levels. Baclofen or tizanadine will help reduce muscle spasms. Physical therapy is essential in maintaining flexibility and reducing risk of permanent muscle contractions. It will also help with pain management.
Proper nutrition is important to maintain as ALS patient need easy to swallow foods that build energy. Speech therapy may also be advised to enhance the ability to communicate verbally for as long as possible. As the disease progressives, life support mechanisms will need to be employed to sustain life. Feeding tubes and breathing machines will need to be used. Heart problems may also occur which will need treatment to prolong the life of the patient.
Lou Gehrig’s disease is fatal. At this time, there are no cures but there are treatments that will help prolong life and add to the quality of life. This disease is tragic and affects the lives of the patient and family.