Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS)

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, is a progressive neuromuscular disease. It involves a progressive degeneration of motor nerve cells (neurons) in the brain and spinal cord. When the motor neurons can no longer send impulses to the muscles, the muscles begin to waste away (atrophy), causing increased muscle weakness.

Symptoms of ALS

As ALS progresses in the body, the following symptoms may appear:

  • Twitching and cramping of muscles, especially those in the hands and feet
  • Difficulty in using arms and legs
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Difficulty in speaking and projecting one's voice
  • Difficulty in breathing and swallowing

Expert Diagnosis of ALS at Sentara

If you are experiencing the symptoms listed above, your doctor will first perform a complete physical exam and review your medical history. He or she may then conduct one or more tests, including:

  • Electromyogram (EMG), to measures the electrical activity in your nerves and muscles
  • Blood test
  • Spinal fluid test
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), a test that produces images of the body without the use of X-rays

ALS Treatment at Sentara

There is currently no cure for ALS, yet there are several treatment options that can make people diagnosed with ALS more comfortable. Your team of doctors will work with you to develop a personalized treatment plan that may include: 

  • Medications to relieve painful muscle cramps, excessive salivation and other symptoms
  • Physical therapy to maintain mobility and ease the discomfort of muscle stiffness, cramps and fluid retention
  • Nutritional counseling
  • Speech therapy and communication training to maintain as many verbal communication skills as possible
  • Assistive devices, such as splints, corrective braces, grab bars, reach devices, etc. to help with daily activities such as dressing, eating, toileting and bathing
  • Special equipment, such as wheelchairs, electric beds or mattresses and boards to maximize functional independence