What is Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)?
Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (also called ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease) is a type of neuromuscular disorder. This means that it affects the nerves in your body that you can control (muscles in your arms, legs, and hands).
ALS is a progressive disease that worsens over time. Most cases of ALS have no clear cause, although a small percentage of patients inherit the condition from a family member.
If you are living with ALS, the expert neurologists at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital are here to help. Our clinical team will help you improve the quality of your life, employing the latest technologies and treatment techniques to reduce the impact of the disease.
What are the symptoms of ALS?
Early symptoms of ALS may be subtle, such as minor difficulty grasping objects, fatigue, muscle weakness, or vocal changes.
Symptoms then become more noticeable as the disease progresses. This includes muscle tightness, spasms, and weakness. Over time, some patients may lose their ability to walk, speak, use their hands and arms, or eat and breathe unassisted.
How is ALS diagnosed?
The diagnostic process begins with a review of symptoms and medical history. After, a neurologist may order diagnostic tests, including:
- Nerve conduction and electromyogram: These tests measure the ability of nerves to conduct impulses to muscle, as well as the electrical activity of muscle.
- Blood test: There are other diseases that can mimic symptoms of ALS. Blood testing may be needed to rule out other causes.
- MRI of brain and spine may be needed in some cases.
How is ALS treated?
At MedStar Georgetown, we offer a range of therapies that can improve quality of life for patients with ALS. We offer a patient-centered clinic supported by the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) and ALS Association. This clinic is led by a neurologist working alongside a multidisciplinary team. Patients may be evaluated by a pulmonologist, occupational therapist, physical therapist, speech pathologist, nutritionist, respiratory technologist, wheelchair specialist, orthotics specialist and/or an ALS social worker.
Studies have shown that ALS patients experience better health outcomes when they receive care in a multidisciplinary setting. In addition, this model provides a seamless, coordinated care experience and reduces the frequency of medical visits.
Our neurologists are able to provide two medications that may slow disease progression for some patients. These drugs are called Riluzole (Rilutek) and Edaravone (Radicava). Although there is no absolute cure for ALS at this time and current treatments cannot undo existing neurological damage, patients may benefit from medications designed to treat the symptoms of ALS, such as pain, muscle spasms, or bouts of crying or laughing caused by the neurological effects of ALS (pseudobulbar affect).
Our neurologists will be by your side every step of the way to provide the latest treatment options and ensure that you are living the highest possible quality of life.