ALS: What is it and how does it affect patients? - KTBS.com - Shreveport, LA News, Weather and Sports

ALS: What is it and how does it affect patients?

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You may know it as "Lou Gehrig's Disease." It's amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS. Just about all of us have heard of it, but you might not know a lot about it -- what it is and what it does to those who are afflicted.

The first signs of ALS include weakness in the hands, legs or feet. This happens when ALS first strikes the central nervous system. The disease shuts down the body's motor neurons so that limbs and muscles become immobile. Eventually, sufferers are totally paralyzed, although they maintain full feeling throughout the body. At this point, only the heart and the digestive system can still function, because those muscles move involuntarily.

According to the ALS Association, the exact cause(s) of the disease have yet to be found. Although doctors have learned much more about it in recent years, there is still no known cure for ALS. The lone medication prescribed for ALS patients, riluzole, slows down its progression, but does not stop or reverse its effects. Although the disease affects each sufferer differently, the average life expectancy after diagnosis is two to five years. The ALS Association estimates that about 30,000 Americans suffer from it at any given time.

There are resources available for ALS patients throughout the U.S. Click here to find clinics, support groups and other help in your community.

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