In the last few months, all social networking sites were flooded with news and updates of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. People of all ages and even celebrities like JLo, Tom Cruise, Zuckerberg, George Bush and many others posted their videos on the Facebook wall. The topic was trending on every social networking site. An insanely whooping number of videos have been shared all around the globe that has reached the 1.2 million mark so far and still counting. Statistics reveal that around 2.2 million people spoke about in on Twitter. The challenge aims at raising awareness and funds for ALS, which it has done quite successfully by raising over $100 million till now for the A.L.S. An association that supports research and care for those suffering from this disease.
But despite all the hype about the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, how many of us actually know what the disease ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) is all about and how it affects our health? ALS also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder which leads to complete paralysis. The disease affects the nerve cells (neurons) that control the functions of voluntary muscles such as arms, legs and reduces the power of controlling the actions of these muscles.
Motor neurons connect the brain and the spinal cord to the muscles and convey signals from the brain to muscles for joint control. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis affects the motor neurons which lead to their death thus cutting out the connection between the brain and voluntary muscles.
Symptoms of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis
The initial symptoms of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis are so mild that they are often overlooked, but the symptom becomes prominent with the progression of the disease. Some of the common symptoms of ALS are stated as follows:
In most individuals, the onset of the disease is first noticed in the muscles of the hands and legs due to which they face a difficulty in performing simple tasks such as writing, buttoning clothes or holding an object. Other symptoms include difficulty in walking along with frequent tripping or stumbling.
The onset of ALS is also indicated by frequent twitching, fasciculation and cramping of muscles of hands and feet along with spasticity and exaggerated reflexes.
Difficulty in Speech:
Another noticeable symptom of ALS is slurring of speech, difficulty in speaking and forming words, problem in chewing and swallowing food (Dysphagia).
Difficulty in Breathing:
In a relatively advanced stages of the disease, patients can also experience shortness of breath and difficulty in breathing.
Who Are at Higher Risk of Developing ALS?
Although Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis can affect anyone, the risk is higher in people between the age group of 40 to 60. However, the disease has also been diagnosed in individuals in their twenties and thirties. It is more common in older men and women with the average age of diagnosis being 55 years. Men are at 20% higher risk of developing ALS compared to women. The average life expectancy of patients diagnosed with ALS is two to five years from the time of diagnosis. The disease occurs apparently at random in 90% percent of the cases with the patient having no family history. But 5 to 10% of the cases are genetic – directly inherited from the patient’s parents.
Diagnosis of ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis)
There is no particular test for definite diagnosis of ALS. Medics run a series of clinical examination and diagnostic tests to rule out chances of other diseases that have very similar symptoms. This is followed by the subsequent procedure:
- Electrodiagnostic Tests – Electromyography (EMG) and nerve conduction velocity (NCV)
- The study of blood and urine samples along with high resolution serum protein electrophoresis, thyroid and parathyroid hormone levels and search for traces of heavy metals
- X-rays and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
- Myelogram of cervical spine
- Muscle and nerve biopsy
- Neurological examination
Treatment for ALS
Although there is no treatment for the disease that can stop its progression and cure it completely, it can be managed with medication and therapy.
Riluzole (Rilutek) is the only drug that has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) which helps in slowing down the progression of the disease and improving chances of survival. The drug reduces the release of glutamate and protects the motor neurons from damage. But patients administered with this drug might suffer from side effects such as liver problems, gastrointestinal problems and dizziness.
Other medications might help in controlling symptoms of ALS such as relieving fatigue, muscle cramps, pain, depression, sleeping disturbances, spasticity, constipation, reducing excessive salivation and phlegm production.
Physical Therapy: Physical therapy and equipment can help in relieving pains and cramps and improve mobility. In some cases the physical therapist can administer low impact exercises such as walking, swimming, and stationary bicycling in order to improve strength of the unaffected muscles. These exercises also help in maintaining the heart health and relieving depression.
Speech Therapy: As Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, also affects speech due to which communication becomes a problem. But speech therapy can help in making the speech clearer and more understandable. A therapist can also introduce other methods of communication such as alphabet boards to help the patient communicate.
ALS, also weakens the muscles that assist breathing and therefore it is important to undergo breathing tests regularly so that doctors can diagnose complications and treat it accordingly. Breathing aids and mechanical ventilation also facilitate breathing.
Although there is no cure for ALS as yet, but extensive research is being conducted on a global basis and recent advancement in the field of drug therapy is a promising ray of hope for us.
Shifting Back to Ice Bucket Challenge
ALS Ice Bucket Challenge emerged as a popular charity fundraiser in August 2014 to raise funds to support research at the ALS Association or Motor Neurone Disease Association in the UK. According to the rules of the challenge, within 24 hours of being challenged, the participants have to record a video in which they have to fill a bucket with ice and water, state the person who nominated them, nominate three other individuals and pour the bucket full of ice and water on themselves. The contestant is expected to donate US $10 or a similar amount in their local currency to the ALS Association or Motor Neurone Disease Association. Any contestant who backs out from the challenge is expected to donate US $100 to ALS research.
The fundraiser has received a breakthrough response from celebrities and common public alike and has helped in spreading awareness about ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) throughout the world.