Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a fatal motor neuron disease characterized by progressive degeneration of nerve cells that are located in the spinal cord and brain. The degeneration of such nerve cells impacts voluntary control of arms and legs as well as other issues. While this disease is one of the most devastating in terms of nerve and muscle function, it does not impact mental function or senses at all. Therapies for treating ALS include things like occupational therapy, speech therapy, respiratory therapy, and heat or whirlpool therapy to help relieve muscle cramping. In addition to therapies, patients may be prescribed medications such as RADICAVA (edaravone) and Riluzole (Rilutek, Exservan, Tiglutik) to help with symptom management. Here are some early warning symptoms of ALS:
1. Twitching and cramping of muscles
Twitching and cramping of the muscles is a common symptom of ALS. It occurs as a result of ongoing signal disruptions from the nerves to the muscles, and some cramps can be extremely painful, which is where medications and heat or whirlpool therapy come in.
2. Loss of motor control
ALS can impact motor neurons, causing them to degenerate and die, thus becoming unable to send messages to the muscles. This is another reason why twitching and cramping of the muscles is a common symptom, but this also causes the muscles to weaken and waste away.
3. Tripping and falling
Lower extremity weakness, loss of motor control, decreased coordination, and changes in balance are all part of ALS, making tripping and falling more common in ALS patients. If you or a loved one is suddenly tripping and falling easily or often, this can be an early warning symptom of ALS.
4. Persistent fatigue
Resulting from muscle weakness and spasticity, fatigue can occur. Fatigue is persistent or chronic tiredness or weakness that doesn’t go away with a nap or a good night’s rest, so if you’re feeling fatigued often, it is important to speak to your doctor.
5. Slurred or thick speech
ALS can attack bulbar neurons, the nerve cells in charge of bringing messages from the brain to the muscles that move the lips, tongue, soft palate, jaw, and vocal folds. When this occurs, the outcome is slurred or thick speech. Projecting your voice may also become challenging.
6. Uncontrollable periods of laughing or crying
The pseudobulbar affect, or emotional lability, occurs in some patients with ALS and is characterized by uncontrolled periods of laughing or crying. This is a neurological problem caused by disruption in certain systems of the brain, resulting in emotional responses not suited to the situation, and it can be a challenging symptom to deal with.