Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is a form or motor neuron disease, which is caused by the degeneration of neurons in the ventral horn of the spinal cord and the cortical neurons that provide their afferent input. The disease is also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. This progressive medical condition gradually leads to death of the motor neurons. With death of a neuron, the body loses the important messenger service, and the brain does not have a way to initiate and to control movements of the muscles. In many cases, patients with amyotic lateral sclerosis become totally paralyzed in the later stages of their disease.
Epidemiology and causes
It is estimated that amyotrophic lateral sclerosis affects more than 5,600 people in the United States, each year. About 30.000 Americans are struggling with this ailment, at any given time. According to the official statistics, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis usually affects Caucasian people aged between 40 and 70. In almost 60 percent of the cases, patients are males. There is no known cause of this disease. In only 5 percent of all cases, doctors found that a genetic component is involved. A genetic defect on chromosome 21 may be responsible for this disease. For some unknown reason, military veterans, particularly those deployed during the Gulf War, are approximately twice as likely to develop amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
Symptoms of ALS in men
The symptoms are easily overlooked at the early onset. The disease may first look like a general weakness and lack of energy, but as it progresses, it may include muscle weakness in hands, arms and legs, or even troubles with swallowing and breathing.
The symptoms may also include cramping and twitching of the muscles, especially muscles in hands and feet. Often the patients experience impairment of the use of the arms and legs. Some of them may experience difficulty projecting the voice, characterized as so-called “thick speech”. In advanced stages difficulty to breathe and swallow, as well as shortness of the breath, may also be present.
The first symptoms in men usually involve general clumsiness, frequent tripping over carpets, troubles lifting things or even unusually slurred speech. Dropping things, feelings of constant tiredness in the arms and legs, or even unusual mood swings, characterized by alternating periods of laughing or crying, are also indicative of this disease.
As the symptoms progress, they will affect the trunk of the body, speech, swallowing, chewing and breathing. In later stages patients may constantly need a constant caregiver’s attention an even a ventricular support to survive.