August 28, 2014
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ALS: treatment

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, is the most common neuromuscular disease. The disease affects nerve cells that control voluntary muscles. It is progressive and fatal: 80% of people who have it die within 5 years. Currently, there is no cure for ALS. A medication, riluzole, can prolong survival by a few months and delay the need for ventilation for certain people with ALS. But there is no treatment that significantly prolongs life, and therefore, treatment of ALS is mainly supportive.

Supportive treatments for ALS include:

  • splints, braces, or walkers
  • ramps
  • ventilation
  • tracheotomy and respirators
  • cough-producing devices (that help with clearing airways)
  • speech synthesizers
  • gastrostomy tubes (for feeding)
  • stretching
  • low-impact exercise (e.g., walking, swimming)

Supportive treatment is provided by various health care professionals, including doctors, pharmacists, physiotherapists, speech therapists, nutritionists, social workers, and occupational therapists. Medications may be used to help with fatigue and muscle cramps, and to reduce saliva and phlegm.

Researchers are looking into genetic links for ALS and into possible viral, infectious, or environmental causes of the disease. Hopefully, this research will lead to treatments that prevent or delay cell death and eventually to a cure.

 Written and reviewed by the MediResource Clinical Team


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