Ice, Ice, Baby!

FROM 2014 ARCHIVES

“The world seems to be ice-numb on ALS, until this year”

Sometimes our body just stops from working – this phenomenon is called death. But, what if, you’re still alive and your body starts to disintegrate. You’re trembling not because you are tensed but because you have something serious. You unconsciously move your hands and kick your feet but not because you’re possessed by a spirit. You can’t talk not because you are tongue-tied but because you just can’t… but why? Why can you not? The reason might be is because you experience ALS.

ALS, also known as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis and Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a progressive, fatal disease of the motor neurons that control the skeletal muscles of the body. The disease characteristically produces a wasting away of the muscles that have lost their nerve supply, resulting in weakening and paralysis. There are also signs of spasticity, or stiffness, of the muscles and exaggerated reflexes. Eventually, ALS results in total paralysis and respiratory failure. The senses and intellect are not affected.

The onset, or first appearance, of ALS usually occurs between the ages of 40 and 70, although it may affect people anywhere from 20 to 90 years of age. The onset and course of ALS varies from person to person. Common early symptoms include persistent weakness and fatigue, and muscular stiffness, twitching, and cramping. When the upper extremities are affected first, the person may drop things more frequently, and experience diminished hand and arm control. If the lower extremities are affected first, the person may trip and fall more frequently. Some people notice slurred speech, excessive saliva and drooling, or difficulty breathing. Periods of uncontrollable laughing or crying may occur.

There is no specific diagnostic test for ALS; physicians try to rule out other disorders that affect nerve and muscle function. For example, muscular dystrophy is another degenerative disease that results in wasting of muscle tissue. But in muscular dystrophy the muscles themselves are affected, while in ALS it is the nerve cells supplying the muscles that are affected. Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a progressive, autoimmune disease in which the body attacks its own cells. In MS, the protective myelin sheath surrounding the nerve cells is progressively destroyed. Unlike ALS, the course of MS undergoes long periods of remission, during which people are free of symptoms, and the expected survival of people with MS is much longer than those with ALS.

To rule out other disorders, tests are conducted to measure nerve response. Diagnosis may also include magnetic resonance imaging of the spine, biopsy (surgical removal and microscopic examination of cells) of muscle and nerve tissue, and blood and urine tests. An accurate diagnosis is critical and the ALS Association recommends that a person diagnosed with ALS seek a second diagnosis from a physician who sees many ALS patients. Because ALS develops so gradually, the disease has often progressed 20% to 50% by the time a diagnosis is confirmed.