What is ALS?

It's hard to miss the countless videos of people dumping ice cold water on their heads. It's all for a good cause. But what exactly is ALS? And why are we all freezing to fight it?

Chloe Huan, MD, is a neurohospitalist with Intermountain Medical Center in Murray and explains what ALS is - including symptoms and treatment options for managing the disease.

What is ALS?
ALS stands for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), which is a terminal neurological disorder with no proven treatment or cure. It's one of the most devastating disorders out there, characterized by progressive degeneration of nerve cells in the spinal cord and brain.

You might also hear it referred to as Lou Gehrig's Disease, which comes from a famous baseball player who died from the disease. Stephen Hawking, the internationally renowned physicist, also has ALS.

What are the Symptoms?
Patients who suffer from ALS initially experience weakness in one of their limbs that develops over a matter of days or, more commonly, a few weeks. Then, several weeks to months later, weakness develops in another limb.

As ALS progresses, more and more symptoms are noticed:
• Twitching and cramping of muscles, especially those in the hands and feet
• Loss of motor control in the hands and arms
• Impairment in the use of the arms and legs
• Tripping and falling
• Dropping things
• Persistent fatigue
• Uncontrollable periods of laughing or crying
• Slurred or thick speech and difficulty in projecting the voice

Can you Treat it?
While there is no proven treatment for ALS, we can manage the symptoms. For most people with ALS, primary treatment may include physical, occupational, speech, respiratory, and nutritional therapies. Some medications and/or heat or whirlpool therapy may help to relieve muscle cramping. Exercise, although recommended in moderation, may help to maintain muscle strength and function.

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