ALS (LOU GEHRIG'S DISEASE)
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig's disease, is a progressive, degenerative disease of the nervous system. Over time, the muscles that control functions such as movement, speech, swallowing, and breathing become progressively weaker and eventually become paralyzed. There is no cure for the disease.
NewYork-Presbyterian physicians maximize the quality of life for patients with ALS through timely diagnosis and supportive care. The Eleanor and Lou Gehrig MDA/ALS Multidisciplinary Care Center at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center is one of the nation's largest comprehensive care programs for patients with ALS and their families.
A team of neurologists, nurse practitioners, physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech-language pathologists, psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, nutritionists, pulmonologists, and gastroenterologists collaborates to provide expertise, education, resources, and guidance to people diagnosed with ALS and to their families and caregivers. Our dedicated ALS experts offer state-of-the-art neurological evaluation, promote optimal functioning, support independence, and maintain quality of life throughout the course of each patient's disease.
Initial symptoms of ALS include muscle twitches, loss of control of the hands and arms, weakness, fatigue, tripping, dropping objects, and slurred speech. In the later stages of the disease, patients may have difficulty breathing or swallowing, and develop paralysis. Because these symptoms may resemble those of other disorders, it is important to undergo a full evaluation by a physician.
NewYork-Presbyterian doctors diagnose ALS using a variety of tests, which may include:
- Physical and neurological examination
- Lab tests
- Muscle and/or nerve biopsy
- Spinal tap
- Imaging tests such as x-ray and magnetic resonance imaging
- Electrodiagnostic tests (such as electromyography) which evaluate muscle and nerve function
The healthcare team at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital tailors treatment to each patient with ALS and provides supportive care and guidance for them and their families every step of the way. Many drugs for ALS are being assessed in clinical trials, but only one drug, riluzole (Rilutek®), is currently approved by the FDA for the treatment of ALS. Riluzole has been shown to slow the progression of the disease and prolong survival by several months. Other medications can alleviate symptoms such as muscle cramps, stiffness, and excess saliva. In the later stages of the disease, patients may require the placement of a feeding tube or respirator and may need other supportive care.
Physical, occupational, speech, and nutrition therapy are all available at NewYork-Presbyterian to help patients maintain their function as long as possible. Special equipment can help patients continue to communicate effectively and remain mobile, and ensure their safety. Psychosocial support is available for patients and their caregivers to help them manage daily life with ALS.
NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center maintains one of the world's leading basic science and clinical research programs directed at ALS. Researchers at the Gehrig MDA/ALS Center and the Motor Neuron Center are conducting studies to decipher the mechanisms behind ALS and to identify new targets for innovative therapies. Their shared goal is to learn what causes ALS and to develop therapies to stop the progression of and ultimately cure this debilitating disease.