ALS, more formally known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, is a degenerative disease that affects nerve cell in the central nervous system. It is also called Lou Gehrig’s disease after the famous baseball player who died from the disease at the age of 37. Stephen Hawking, the physicist and writer, is another famous person who developed ALS; he developed a rare form that progresses very slowly and is also early on-set. He was diagnosed in 1963 and is still alive at 75. The vast majority of ALS patients do not survive that long; only ten percent live longer than ten years after diagnosis. There are some characteristic ALS symptoms in men that may reveal whether you or a loved one has the disease.
Types of ALS
ALS falls into two broad categories: familial and sporadic. Familial ALS runs in families; children born to such families have a 50 percent chance of inheriting the mutated gene and developing the disease. Sporadic ALS is far more common and occurs in about 90 to 95 percent of cases; it can affect anybody.
Most people develop ALS when they are between 40 and 70 years old. For some reason, it is twice as common in military veterans as it is in non-veterans. Over 90 percent of ALS patients are Caucasian, and 60 percent are men.
What Are the Symptoms?
ALS symptoms in men and women are largely similar. ALS attacks and destroys motor neurons, which are cells that control the voluntary muscles. It thus impairs the patient’s ability to move, speak and eventually breathe. Over time, the patient’s muscles atrophy and grow progressively worker.
ALS can be categorized depending on which part of the body is affected first. In limb-onset ALS, for example, the patient starts having problems with an arm or leg. If an arm is first affected, the patient starts having trouble with tasks that require a fair degree of manual dexterity like writing, buttoning a shirt or turning a key in a lock. If a leg is affected, the patient will start to have trouble walking or running, and they are more likely to stumble or trip.
In bulbar-onset ALS, the early symptoms affect swallowing and speech. The patient will have trouble swallowing, and they may have difficulty moving their tongue. Their speech may become slurred or unusually nasal or quiet. In rare cases, patients may develop respiratory-onset ALS in which the disease first attacks the muscles that aid in breathing.
As the disease progresses, it affects more and more muscle groups, so a patient who already has trouble using their arms and legs will also begin experiencing similar difficulty swallowing or speaking, or vice versa. The progression of the disease varies; it tends to be slower in younger patients with limb-onset ALS and faster in older patients who develop bulbar-onset or respiratory-onset ALS.
ALS only affects the motor neurons that control voluntary movement. It therefore does not affect any of the senses. In most patients, ALS does not affect the bladder muscles or eye muscles. About 10 to 15 percent of ALS patients also develop frontotemporal dementia, which causes both a decline in cognitive ability and changes in behavior.
ALS symptoms in men and women can manifest themselves in many ways, but centers such as Personalized Regenerative Medicine are at the forefront of discovering how stem cells and innovative therapies can pave the way to more effective treatments. Contact our office in San Clemente to learn more.