Stephen Hawking: Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) is a nervous system disease that weakens muscles and impacts physical function. In this disease, nerve cells break down, which reduces functionality in the muscles that they supply. The cause is unknown.The main symptom is muscle weakness. Medication and therapy can slow ALS and reduce discomfort, but there's no cure.

Other name of this disease is Lou Gehrig’s Disease

The greatest mind of the century, Stephen Hawking passed away on March 14 at the age of 76 after a long struggle with the motor-neurone disease. Hawking first developed the disease when he was 21-years-old, lived for over 50 years with it.The world will remember Stephen Hawking not just for his intellectual genius in physics, but also for his resilience to one of the most incapacitating diseases — amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

What is ALS?

It is a neurodegenerative disorder that can befall anyone. More than 90 per cent cases of the motor neurone disease are on account of ALS, which causes nerve cells in the brain and spinal cords, called neurones, to degenerate and eventually die.

What happens in ALS?

The nerve cells (neurones) play an essential role in transporting messages from the brain and spinal cord to the muscles, thereby helping to coordinate and control the body’s movements. Without these, the brain cannot regulate muscle movements properly and the muscles cannot work properly, leading to muscle weakness, wasting away of the muscles and, eventually, paralysis.

Early signs and symptoms of ALS include:

Difficulty walking or doing your normal daily activities.
Tripping and falling.
Weakness in your leg, feet or ankles.
Hand weakness or clumsiness.
Slurred speech or trouble swallowing.
Muscle cramps and twitching in your arms, shoulders and tongue.

Is ALS painful?

These persistent muscle twitches are generally not painful, but can be annoying or interfere with sleep. They are the result of the ongoing disruption of signals from the nerves to the muscles that occurs in ALS. Some with ALS experience painful muscle cramps, which can sometimes be alleviated with medication.

How do you prevent getting ALS?

Eating bright-colored fruits and vegetables may prevent or delay amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Summary: New research suggests that increased consumption of foods containing colorful carotenoids, particularly beta-carotene and lutein, may prevent or delay the onset of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

What causes ALS?

ALS can be due to various genetic mutations and chemical imbalances as it is both inherited and otherwise. People suffering from this disease have higher than normal levels of glutamate, which is a chemical messenger in the brain, present around the nerve cells in their spinal fluid.
ALS is a difficult disease to diagnose. There is no one test or procedure to ultimately establish the diagnosis of ALS. It is through a clinical examination and series of diagnostic tests, often ruling out other diseases that mimic ALS, that a diagnosis can be established. A comprehensive diagnostic workup includes most, if not all, of the following procedures:
Electrodiagnostic tests including electomyography (EMG) and nerve conduction velocity (NCV)Blood and urine studies including high resolution serum protein electrophoresis, thyroid and parathyroid hormone levels and 24-hour urine collection for heavy metals Spinal tap
X-rays, including magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
Myelogram of cervical spine
Muscle and/or nerve biopsy
A thorough neurological examination
These tests are done at the discretion of the physician, usually based on the results of other diagnostic tests and the physical examination. There are several diseases that have some of the same symptoms as ALS, and most of these conditions are treatable.