What is ALS?
lateral sclerosis (ALS), often referred to as "Lou Gehrig's disease," is
a progressive neurodegenerative disease that attacks nerve cells in the
brain and the spinal cord. There is no known cure or cause (with the
exception of five or ten percent of people who inherit the disease). Motor neurons reach from the brain to the
spinal cord and from the spinal cord to the muscles throughout the body.
The progressive degeneration of the motor neurons in ALS eventually lead
to their death. When the motor neurons die, the ability of the brain to
initiate and control muscle movement is lost. With all voluntary muscle
action affected, patients in the later stages of the disease become
totally paralyzed. Yet, through it all, for the majority of people,
their minds remain unaffected.
comes from the Greek language. "A" means no or negative. "Myo" refers to
muscle, and "Trophic" means nourishment---"No muscle nourishment." When
a muscle has no nourishment, it "atrophies" or wastes away. "Lateral"
identifies the areas in a person's spinal cord where portions of the
nerve cells that nourish the muscles are located. As this area
degenerates it leads to scarring or hardening ("sclerosis") in the
neurons degenerate, they can no longer send impulses to the muscle
fibers that normally result in muscle movement. Early symptoms of ALS
often include increasing muscle weakness, especially involving the arms
and legs, speech, swallowing and breathing. When muscles no longer
receive the messages from the motor neurons that they require to
function, the muscles begin to atrophy (waste away). Limbs begin to look
"thinner" as muscle tissue atrophies.
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