Difference Between ALS and Multiple Sclerosis

Difference Between ALS and Multiple Sclerosis

Though ALS and Multiple sclerosis are similar, but there are several differences between these two neurodegenerative conditions. Read on to find out the difference between ALS and multiple sclerosis.

What is ALS Disease?

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also called Lou Gehrig’s disease, can be described as a fatal motor neuron disease that affects the brain nerve cells and spinal cord, leading to total loss of muscle control. ALS disease deteriorates with time because it is a form of progressive disease which gradually leads to inability to talk, walk, breathe, and eat. Lou Gehrig’s disease doesn’t affect a person’s reasoning, neither does it affect bladder control.
ALS was first discovered in 1869 by a French doctor named Jean-Martin Charcot. Most people often called ALS as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Lou Gehrig was a baseball player who was diagnosed with the motor neuron disease in 1930.
Though the main cause of ALS is yet unknown, doctors have established some ALS cases are inbred, meaning a family member with the disease can increase the risk of a person from same family inheriting the disorder. Scientists are still carrying out research on the possible causes of ALS. Most of the theories are based on an intricate relations between genetic and environmental causes.
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Unfortunately, ALS has no cure. Lou Gehrig’s disease often starts with muscle jerking and feebleness in a limb. As time goes on, the person’s speech gets slurred, and gradually affects control of the muscles that controls movement, speaking, eating and breathing.
In this article, we examined ALS disease symptoms, causes, risk factors, complications, diagnosis and possible treatment. Though ALS cannot be cured for now, but there are therapies and medications that can help a person manage symptoms of this fatal disease. Read on to get more details.

What is the Difference Between ALS and Multiple Sclerosis?

Though ALS and multiple sclerosis (MS) are similar in a number of ways, they are major differences between these two neurodegenerative diseases.
Let’s first look at some similarities between ALS and MS.

ALS and MS Similarities

  • ALS and MS are both neurodegenerative diseases that affect the nerves and muscles, thereby leading to difficulty in movement and other trivial daily activities.
  • Both ALS and MS has no cure.
  • ALS and MS both leads to memory problems and cognitive damage.
  • ALS and MS leads to hardening around nerve cells.
The early symptoms of ALS and MS may be similar, but there are notable differences as the diseases progresses.

Difference Between ALS and Multiple Sclerosis

Functions. One of the difference between ALS and multiple sclerosis is in the functions of patients. ALS affects only the nerves responsible for movement, while MS affect nerves that control the senses such as touch, sight, taste, and smell. ALS does not affect the bladder function, but MS affects the bladder. MS can affect mental and emotional health, and can lead to temperature sensitivity. MS patients experience greater mental damage, while in ALS patients physical difficulties are experienced.
Fatality. ALS is a fatal disease, with life expectancy estimated at three to five years after diagnosis. MS isn’t a fatal disease. Most ALS patients are expected to have a normal or near-normal life expectancy.
Etiology. Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease that makes the body to carry out an attack on the myelin sheath that separates nerve cell fibers in the brain and the spinal cord. This is one difference between ALS and multiple sclerosis. ALS is typically a motor neuron disease that affects the motor neuron cells located in the brain and spinal cord. In MS, the sclerosis is caused by a breakdown in myelin which interrupts signals from the brain to other parts of the body. In ALS, sclerosis destroys the motor neurons, causing the myelin sheath to become harder.
Late stages. Another difference between ALS and multiple sclerosis can be observed in their late stages. In ALS, patients are paralyzed during the late stages of the disease, while in MS, only the mobility is affected during the late stages. However, MS doesn’t leave people completely paralyzed like ALS.
Gender. ALS is more common in men than women, while MS is more common in women.
Age. One major difference between ALS and multiple sclerosis is the age factor. Multiple sclerosis is commonly diagnosed from ages 20 to 50, while ALS is commonly diagnosed in people aged 40 to 70.
Incidence. The cases of MS is more dominant than ALS.
Inheritance. Among the difference between ALS and multiple sclerosis is the issue of inheritance. ALS is mostly inherited, while MS is not believed to be an inherited disease.

Symptoms of ALS Disease

Symptoms of Lou Gehrig’s disease can differ from individual to another, depending on the neurons that is affected by the disease.
Some general signs and symptoms of ALS disease include:
  • Difficulty performing regular daily activities
  • Tripping and falling due to difficulty in movement
  • Hand weakness
  • Slurred speech or trouble swallowing
  • Cognitive changes
  • Leg, feet or ankle weakness
  • Muscle cramps and twitching in tongue, arms, and shoulders
  • Inappropriate laughing, yawning, crying, or other facial expressions
Early ALS symptoms frequently begins in the hands, feet or limbs, and gradually spread out to other parts of the body. The progression of the diseases causes further worsening of the nerve cells leading to muscle weakness. Minor activities that involves muscles like chewing, swallowing, and speaking becomes very tasking. Lou Gehrig’s disease comes with little or no pain in the early and even later stages.

Causes of ALS Disease

ALS basically affects the motor neurons which involves nerve cells responsible for controlling voluntary muscle movements such as walking and talking. ALS disease causes the nerve cells to progressively weaken, and then die. Motor neurons spread out from the brain to the spinal cord to muscles all over the body. Damaged or dead nerve cells or motor neurons will automatically halt transmitting messages to the muscles, causing the muscles to be unable to function.
READ ALSO: Dementia: Everything You Need to Know

ALS Disease Risk factors

Some risk factors for developing Lou Gehrig’s disease include:
  • Statistics have shown that about 5% to 10% ALS cases are inherited. People from family with ALS have half a chance of getting the disease.
  • ALS risk factors intensifies with age, mostly affecting people of 40 and the mid-60s. Though it can affect people who are younger in age. Famous Physicist Stephen Hawking, who died of ALS disease at the age of 76, was first diagnosed with ALS at the age of 21.
  • Men are mostly diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease before age 65.
  • There are some genetic variations that makes some people more prone to developing ALS than others. Researchers have discovered some similarities in genetic variations in people with inherited ALS and those with non-inherited ALS.

Environmental Risk factors

There are some environmental risk factors that may expose some persons to developing ALS. These factors include:
  • Smoking is one environmental risk factor for developing ALS, particularly for post-menopausal women.
  • Exposure to environmental toxin. Exposure to lead or other harmful substances in the environment, particularly in place of work might be connected to ALS. Having residential homes in such places can equally increase a person’s risk of developing Lou Gehrig’s disease.
  • Military service. People who have retired from military service may be prone to developing ALS disease due to intense exertion during trainings, exposure to certain metals or chemicals, viral infections, and traumatic wounds.

ALS Complications

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis can lead to some complications in speaking, eating, and breathing as the disease progresses. ALS complications may include:
Speech. ALS patients develop speech problems as the disease progresses. Initially, this speaking problems may begin as words slurring when speaking, until it deteriorates. The use of communication machineries eventually becomes the only option that people with ALS use to talk so that they can be understood by others.
Eating. Due to damage of the muscles that controls chewing and swallowing, ALS patients can become malnourished and dehydrated. People with this disease will have to rely on the use of a feeding tube.
Breathing problems. ALS causes the muscles used for inhaling and exhaling to paralyze with time. People with ALS may have to wear a device when sleeping to aid breathing. In some cases a surgical procedure called tracheostomy may be performed where hole is created at the front of the neck leading to the windpipe for use of a respirator that inflates and deflates their lungs to aid breathing.
Dementia. ALS disease can lead to frontotemporal dementia, which affects the person’s memory.

Diagnosing ALS

Lou Gehrig’s disease can mimic other forms of nervous disorders, making it difficult to diagnose at the early stage. However, there are tests that are performed to rule out other conditions. They include:
  • Electromyogram (EMG).This has to do with your doctor inserting a needle electrode through your skin into several muscles. Defects in muscles observed in an EMG can help doctors detect or rule out ALS.
  • Nerve conduction study.This measures the capacity of your nerves to transmit impulses to muscles in different parts of your body.
  • This test involves the use of magnetic field and radio waves to produce comprehensive images of your brain and spinal cord.
  • Blood and urine tests.Blood tests and urine analysis can rule out other potential causes of symptoms.
  • Spinal tap (lumbar puncture).This test has to do with using a small needle to extract a sample of the fluid from your spinal cord for lab examination.
  • Muscle biopsy.A muscle biopsy is usually performed under local anesthesia. It involves your doctor extracting a small portion of your muscle for lab investigation.

Treating ALS Disease

ALS cannot be cured once a person has developed it. The nerve damage caused by ALS disease is permanent and irreversible. Treatments can’t reverse the damage caused by ALS, however, they can slow the progress of symptoms. Treatment for ALS is merely to prevent complications, and make you more comfortable.

ALS Medications

There are two major medicines that has been prescribed by Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to help treat ALS. They include:
  • Riluzole (Rilutek).This oral drug can increase life expectancy. Possible side effects of taking Riluzole includes gastrointestinal problems, dizziness, and liver function.
  • Edaravone (Radicava).This intravenous infusion medication helps to lessen the deterioration in daily functioning. Possible side effects of being on this drug includes headache, bruising, and shortness of breath.
ALS patients may experience episodes of uncontrolled crying or laughing, depression, consitipation, pain, muscle cramps, sleep problems, and tiredness. Your doctor may also prescribe medications to relieve these symptoms.

 Therapies for ALS

  • Breathing therapy. ALS patients experience breathing difficulties due to weakening of the muscles. Doctors might often test your breathing and provide you with strategies to aid your breathing during sleep at night.
  • Physical therapy. This treatment for ALS helps patient to manage pain and mobility to help you stay comfortable. Engaging in in minimal exercises can help maintain your cardiovascular health and muscle strength for longer.
Regular exercise can also help improve your sense of well-being. Appropriate stretching can help prevent pain and help your muscles function at their best.
  • Occupational therapy. This form of therapy is to help you achieve independence in spite of hand and arm weakness. It involves the use of adaptive equipment to help you perform activities such as eating, bathing, grooming, and dressing. Your home can be suitably adapted to allow accessibility if you have concern walking without harm.
  • Speech therapy. Patient can learn techniques to make speech more comprehensible either with the use of an alphabet board or pen and paper. Patient can also learn to use a computer-based paraphernalia with synthesized speech that can help you converse easily.

 Can ALS Be Prevented?

The risk of developing ALS can be reduced or prevented by consuming bright colored foods rich in antioxidants. Fruits that are red, orange, or yellow – colored contains carotenoids and vitamin C, which can help prevent the risk of a person developing ALS disease.
These findings was deduced from a study published in the journal, Annals of Neurology. Results from this research established that eating colorful carotenoids helps prevent the onset of ALS disease.

Managing ALS Disease

Just like cancer diagnosis, being diagnosed with ALS is the worst news ever, with can be very shattering for you and your family, since the disease has no cure. You can get emotional and support from psychologists and social workers.
You have to remain positive. Take for instance, Stephen Hawking lived for 55 years after he was diagnosed with ALS at the age of 21. The renowned physicist defied all medical speculations to live for a whopping 55 productive years!
So ALS diagnosis isn’t completely a death sentence. You can join support groups and get motivation from people who are living with ALS.
Disclaimer: The content provided on healthdiary365.com is purely informative and educational in nature and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical doctor or healthcare professional.

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