Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis - Treatment

There is no cure for ALS. There are also no treatments that can significantly alter the course of the disease. In 1998 a new drug, riluzole (trade name Rilutek) was approved for use with ALS patients. The drug somewhat reduces the loss of muscle strength. It can extend the life of an ALS patient for an average of three months. No other drug or vitamin has been found to

Renowned scientist Stephen Hawking suffers from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. (Reproduced by permission of AP/Wide World Photos)
Renowned scientist Stephen Hawking suffers from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. (Reproduced by permission of
AP/Wide World Photos

have any effect on the progress of ALS.

Physical therapy can often help a patient maintain strength, retain range of motion, and promote general health. Stretching exercises and swimming are often a part of these routines. Drugs can sometimes be helpful in treating certain symptoms of ALS, such as cramping.

Various health specialists can be of help in dealing with specific problems encountered by ALS patients. An occupational therapist, for example, can help design solutions to the patient's movement and coordination problems. He or she can also help design special devices and home modifications to improve the patient's mobility.

Speech therapists can train an ALS patient to deal with problems of swallowing and speaking. A nutritionist can help patients design diets that will be easier to swallow and yet still be nutritious.

In later stages of the disease, mechanical ventilators may be necessary. Mechanical ventilators help patients to breathe more easily and can help prevent aspiration. They can be inserted through the mouth or nose or though an opening in the throat. Modern mechanical ventilators are small and portable. They allow ALS patients some degree of freedom and mobility. Under the best of circumstances, ventilators are somewhat awkward and unpleasant devices. Some ALS patients choose to use them for only short periods of time or not at all.

Most ALS patients eventually require full-time nursing care. This care is not difficult to learn and can often be provided by family members. The physical and emotional burden for caregivers, however, can be enormous. They must learn to be aware of and to find ways of dealing with their own needs as well as those of the patient.

Support groups can help caregivers in this regard. Support groups consist of other people also working with ALS patients as well as professional counselors. Support groups are sponsored by both the ALS Society and the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

Alternative Treatment

There is no scientific evidence that any form of alternative therapy has been successful in treating ALS. A number of vitamins, herbal remedies, and other natural products have been tried but, thus far, none appears to have any success. As the causes of the disease are better understood, it is possible that some alterative therapies may be found to provide relief from the disease.

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