What is ALS?

By AnaMaria Bech

Click para español -> ¿Qué es la ELA?

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), often referred to as "Lou Gehrig's Disease," is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. Motor neurons reach from the brain to the spinal cord and from the spinal cord to the muscles throughout the body. 

The progressive degeneration of the motor neurons in ALS eventually leads to their death. When the motor neurons die, the ability of the brain to initiate and control muscle movement is lost. With voluntary muscle action progressively affected, patients in the later stages of the disease may become totally paralyzed. 

A-myo- trophic comes from the Greek language. "A" means no or negative. "Myo" refers to muscle, and "Trophic" means nourishment- "No muscle nourishment. "When a muscle has no nourishment, it "atrophies" or wastes away. "Lateral" identifies the areas in a person's spinal cord where portions of the nerve cells that signal and control the muscles are located. As this area degenerates it leads to scarring or hardening("sclerosis") in the region.

As motor neurons degenerate, they can no longer send impulses to the muscle fibers that normally result in muscle movement. Early symptoms of ALS often include increasing muscle weakness, especially involving the arms and legs, speech, swallowing or breathing. When muscles no longer receive the messages from the motor neurons that they require to function, the muscles begin to atrophy (become smaller). Limbs begin to look "thinner" as muscle tissue atrophies. 

Although the cause of ALS is not completely understood, the recent years have brought a wealth of new scientific understanding regarding the physiology of this disease. While there is not a cure or treatment today that halts reverses ALS, there is one FDA approved drug that modestly slows the progression of ALS. There are significant devices and therapies that can manage the symptoms of ALS that help people maintain as much independence as possible and prolong survival. There are medically documented cases of people in whom ALS 'burns out,' stops progressing or progresses at a very slow rate. 

In our city, we have a champion who is not only trying to live and thrive while dealing with this condition, but who is using his fame to raise awareness and funds for research, and to bring hope to others with ALS. Steve Gleason played for The New Orleans Saints from 2000-2008. Gleason will always be remembered for his blocked punt on the night the Louisiana Superdome reopened for the first time after Hurricane Katrina.

In January 2011 Steve was diagnosed with ALS, considered a terminal neuromuscular disease. Beyond his faith that there is a solution to heal, it is his mission to show that people can live and thrive after this diagnosis. Steve and his wife, Michel, formed “Team Gleason” to help him accomplish

Those goals and more. You can help, too by visiting teamgleason.org.

AnaMaria Bech

Publisher

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Publisher's Note

As the holiday season approaches the first thing on my mind is "I can't believe the year is almost over!"

Thanksgiving is the perfect opportunity to count the many reasons why we should be grateful, so I take this opportunity to thank first, our readers and supporters. We are still a young project and it is very rewarding to hear your comments and to receive words of encouragement. I feel very grateful and flattered every time someone says they love what we are doing.

 I'm thankful to be doing something I enjoy, to get to know amazing people in our community, and to continue to learn new things everyday.

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I hope you all have a very special Thanksgiving celebration! Remember to remain calm and sane through the busy holiday season coming ahead.