ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease or Motor Neuron Disease, is a condition that affects individuals when the bran is unable to properly communicate with the body’s muscles. Motor neurons serve as the body’s internal wiring and help you move around. With ALS, these motor neurons gradually break down. When this occurs, you will slowly lose the ability to walk, talk, eat, swallow and even breathe. As ALS progresses, these symptoms will worsen.
There are two types of ALS: Sporadic ALS, which is the most common form of ALS can affects individuals of any gender, ethnicity or age (though it typically affects people between the ages of 40 and 60), and Familial ALS. Familial ALS is passed from parent to child, and accounts for up to 10 percent of ALS cases. Another form of ALS, known as Bulbar ALS, affects up to 30 percent of ALS patients. With Bulbar ALS, muscles in the head, face and neck become paralyzed. Typically, symptoms (such as changes in voice or speech/articulation) of Bulbar ALS are not present until later stages of the condition.
There are currently over 200,000 people worldwide living with ALS, with approximately 3,000 of those being in Canada.
There is not one particular thing that causes ALS. Instead, it has a wide array of causes which can include changes in genes, and even environmental factors. As more ALS research is done, the ALS Society of Canada will have a better understanding of what else triggers it. Due to ALS having symptoms that mimic other diseases (such as thyroid disorders or lyme disease), it can initially be difficult to diagnose. In order to properly diagnose ALS, Dr. Ali Ghahary will review the patient’s symptoms and rule out other health conditions. This can be done by administering blood and urine tests, as well as referring patients for electrodiagnostic tests such as an EMC, and magnetic resonance imagine (MRI.)
Since ALS is a progressive disease, there is no cure. You may face challenges as you begin to adapt to the symptoms associated with ALS, therefore it is important to have a good support system in place. Primary care physicians, like Dr. Ali Ghahary in Vancouver, are available to better explain ALS and will also consult with other healthcare providers. As ALS can affect the ability to swallow, seeking advice from a dietician is also beneficial in helping you to maintain proper nutrition. The ALS Society of BC also provides support to ALS patients, and they even offer an equipment loan program that includes mobility equipment, lift equipment, communicative devices, bathroom aids, beds and other accessories. All of this equipment is available at no charge.