Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis causes a progressive loss of the ability to move. Therefore, the ability to eat or breathe is impaired. What are its main symptoms?

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a degenerative disease that affects the central nervous system. It is also the illness of Lou Gehrig, who was a baseball player suffering from it, as well as the scientist Stephen Hawking.

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis often tends to be confused with multiple sclerosis. However, there is a notable difference between the two: in multiple sclerosis, any type of neurons can be affected and, in the case of ALS, only motor neurons are affected.

Worldwide, estimations are that there are almost half a million cases. Although we’re not familiar with its cause yet, we know that it affects more men than women and that the first symptoms usually appear around the age of 60 in most patients.

Despite current research, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis still has a very poor prognosis. Therefore, in this article we explain what are the first symptoms that appear and their main characteristics.

What is amyotrophic lateral sclerosis?

As we have already mentioned, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis affects the motor neurons of the nervous system. These neurons are in charge of controlling all the voluntary movements that we carry out. They go from the brain to the spinal cord and from there to all the muscles in the body.

When a person suffers from ALS, there’s a damage to their neurons. In this way, they cannot transmit the impulse to the muscles, so they cannot activate or make movements.

Despite the fact that we are not still familiar with the cause of this pathology, in almost 10% of people it is hereditary. That is, a patient with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis could transmit it to their offspring. However, 90% of cases are sporadic.

Although it is true that it can appear at any age, as we age we increase the risk of ALS. In fact, most patients begin to have symptoms from the age of 60.

What symptoms appear at the beginning?

The truth is that the symptoms of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis can vary from person to person. At the beginning of the disease, they can be mild and very general symptoms, so it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between them. For example, there is a higher frequency to trip or fall.

Some people debut with symptoms like difficulty speaking or even stuttering. What is frequent is that there is weakness and fatigue in the extremities. Almost 60% of patients experience it. In addition, it can be accompanied by muscle cramps or nervous tics.

Often this weakness makes it increasingly difficult to pick up objects, dress, and even walk. On the other hand, there are cases where you start with fits of laughter or crying that cannot be controlled.

The symptoms can vary in each patient. However, as the disease progresses, mobility problems are increasingly noticeable.

What is the prognosis for ALS?

Currently, this disease has a very poor prognosis. Estimations are that most patients survive between 3 and 5 years after diagnosis. Still, there are some cases in which survival is greater, or even the disease has slowed down.

Although it does not affect all people in the same way, most of them gradually lose muscle capacity. Little by little, the ability to swallow, chew and finally, to breathe disappears. This is usually the cause of death.

Although it is true that there is no cure for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, there are treatments that increase the quality of life of these people or reduce complications. For this reason, it is very important that, in the event of any minimum symptom, you need to carry out a medical consultation soon.

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