June 21: World ALS Day

As every year, June 21 marks World Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Day, a date dedicated to remembering and giving a voice to those who struggle with the silent disease.

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) is a neuromuscular disease in which the motor nerve cells of the brain, brainstem and medulla are affected. Thus, these motor neurons, which control the movement of voluntary muscles, gradually diminish in function and eventually die, causing muscle atrophy and general weakness. The basic consequence is a progressive weakness that progresses to total paralysis of the patient, who loses the ability to eat, speak or breathe.

ALS: the causes

Although more and more is known about the functioning of the nervous system, the cause or causes of ALS are still unknown, although it is estimated that at least one in ten cases is due to a genetic problem or defect.

Symptoms of ALS

ALS usually affects adults in their fifties, although there have been cases in much younger people. It tends to have a higher incidence in men than in women, with a ratio of three to one. In our country, it is estimated that around 900 cases of ALS are diagnosed each year, with a total of about 3000/4000 cases. The symptoms of ALS vary from one person to another, depending on the severity and degenerative changes. However, the first symptoms of the disease are usually the following: – Weakness in the limbs – Progressive loss of strength – Clumsiness – Decrease in muscle mass or body weight – Presence of cramps, spasms, twitching – Speech changes, difficulty chewing and/or swallowing… – Difficulty breathing – Drooping of the head due to loss of strength of the neck muscles The progression of the disease is irregular, sometimes being very slow, developing over the years while having periods of stability. However, sometimes the disease progresses rapidly, progressing to complete paralysis and with a life expectancy of three years. Survival of more than five years is about 20% of patients, and only more than €10 live for more than ten years.

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Treatment of ALS

To date, ALS is a degenerative disease of unknown origin and incurable. However, although there is still no treatment for ALS, the recent discovery of glutamate blocking agents and certain growth factors give hope to the scientific community, as they have shown great promise in halting the progression of the disease. Although there are no drugs to cure ALS, there are drugs to combat the symptoms of the disease, such as cramps, salivation problems and sleep disturbances. Physiotherapy, together with the work of speech and occupational therapists, is also important to combat the disease.

For more information, consult an ALS specialist.