An introduction to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and its causes
A renowned physicist from the University of Cambridge was diagnosed with Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) at the age of 21. During his prime youth years, he was told by doctors that he would not survive more than a couple of months. The physicist who spent his entire life understanding time and explaining it to the world is still alive but with the disease, and his name is Stephen Hawking. Today he is 75 years of age.
ALS, being a progressive neurodegenerative disease, affects the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. Most of those who are diagnosed with ALS generally do not have much time left after their diagnosis. However, in rare cases, some patients live for many years along with the disease.
For the introductory part, it is essential to know how ALS impacts the body of a person. For that, we need to break down the term Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Here, A means “no” and “myo” translates to “muscle” and trophic translates to “nourishment.” Further, lateral is the reference to the spinal cord and sclerosis means to scar or harden.
There are essentially two types of ALS, sporadic and familial. In the US, sporadic is the type of ALS that is most commonly found and almost 95 percent of ALS cases are of the sporadic type. Only 5 percent of ALS cases in US are of the familial type. Despite many years of research and development, there haven’t been any cure of ALS found or made, but there are medications that are made that help in prolonging the time a person has post diagnosis. The medication also focusses of improving the life of people who are living with the disease.
When a person develops the disease of ALS, he loses control of moving any muscle of his body on his own. The body of the person becomes completely disabled and his or her condition gets worse with time. As time passes, the person faces difficulty in breathing, eating, and swallowing, which makes it a hostile condition for the patient.
The cause of ALS hasn’t been found by doctors and researchers yet. In very rare cases, it is found that ALS runs in the family of the patient. Over the years though, researchers have concluded some possible causes of ALS and they are as follows:
Chemical imbalance – The level of glutamate, which is a chemical messenger present in the brain, is much higher in people who have ALS. This glutamate is present around the nerve cells in the spinal fluid in the brain. It can be toxic to some nerve cells to have too much glutamate.
Immune system – Disorganized or unsystematic immune response, where the immune system of a person starts attacking his or her own body’s normal cells causes ALS. This may also lead to death of nerve cells.
Mishandling of protein – The proteins in the body are mishandled, which results in the nerve cells accumulating the abnormal formation of proteins in the cells, thereby leading to destruction of nerve cells.
Apart from the causes of ALS, there are risk factors such as age, sex, gender, and genetics. When ALS is concerned, men are more at risk than women and it is more common between the age of 40 to 60.