“I am doing the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge”
Most of us have heard that phrase while watching the hundreds of videos on Facebook of people dumping ice water on themselves. Although so many people are raising awareness for the cause, but do they really know what ALS is?
ALS or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease is a progressive neurodegenerative disease. ALS affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal chord. The progressive degeneration of the motor neurons (a nerve cell forming part of a pathway along which impulses from the brain or spinal chord to a muscle or gland) in ALS eventually kills these neurons. When motor neurons die, the brains ability to initiate muscle and control muscle movement is lost.
Some symptoms of ALS are increasing muscle weakness. This weakness usually happens in the arms and legs, speech, swallowing or even breathing. This is because the muscles no longer receive the messages from the motor neurons. The muscles also become smaller (also called atrophy). Your limbs begin to look thinner as muscle tissue atrophies.
Motor neurons provide voluntary movements and muscle power. This means that if you have ALS, your circulatory system (your heart) and your digestive system are no involved. You may think that breathing is involuntary, but ALS patients have to be careful not to hold their breath, as that is a voluntary action.
There is no cure or treatment for ALS today, but there is one FDA approved drug that can slow the progression of ALS, called riluzole. There are also several other drugs that are in clinic trials at the moment.
Because of new scientific understanding, there is more knowledge regarding the physiology of the disease. ALS is becoming more understood and recognized around the world because of the ice bucket challenge.