June is ALS Awareness month. Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, also known as ALS, is a group of neurological diseases. They involve the neurons which are responsible for controlling voluntary muscle movement. Voluntary muscles are responsible for walking, talking, breathing and chewing. It is a rare, progressive disease which means that as times goes on, the disease worsens. There is no cure for ALS or treatment to stop its progression.

The cause of ALS is not known at this time. Scientific studies show that both the environment and genetics may play a role in its development.

What are the symptoms of ALS?

  • Difficulty swallowing or chewing
  • Spasticity in the muscles (tightness and stiffness) or muscle cramps
  • Twitches in the muscles, particularly those of the arms, legs, tongue or shoulder
  • Speech which is slurred
  • Muscle weakness in an arm, a leg, the diaphragm or the neck
  • Awkwardness when walking or running
  • Stumbling or tripping
  • Difficulty with buttons, zippers or when writing

The symptoms of ALS can be similar to many other diseases. Usually a neurologist will order blood and urine tests. These tests could be an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) and other tests for the nerves and muscles. As ALS progresses, patients will have more difficulty walking and moving. At some point they will need support.  Symptoms will worsen and they will lose their ability to speak, swallow and eventually breathe. Many people with ALS do exhibit cognitive and behavioral changes.

How is ALS treated?

  • Medications which help reduce damage to the motor neurons
  • Physical therapy which helps with strength and spasticity of muscles
  • Speech therapy
  • Breathing support through respirators and ventilators.

This June many areas will be holding special events to raise money for ALS research. There will also be ALS walks and hikes. To get involved and find out more information about ALS and events this June, click here.