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20 May 2014

What Causes ALS?

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Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a disease that affects neurons in the central nervous system. It’s a debilitating disease that impairs bodily functions over time, leading to complete paralysis.

ALS is a mysterious condition that has kept researchers guessing its possible causes. Although genetic components have been identified to be major factors in its development, there is still much to learn about the disease.

What is ALS?

In the course of ALS, motor nerve cells of the body slowly die. This prevents the brain from directing any muscle control, thereby paralyzing the body.

ALS can be difficult for those it affects and their family members. As the disease progresses, increased loss of function must be dealt with to prolong the life of the person.

Searching for the Cause

Researchers have so far established no clear cause for the disease. The majority of cases show no contributing factor, even when a family member has been affected.

But in a small percentage of ALS cases, a genetic connection has been observed. It was shown that a single defect in genetics could contribute to its development in patients.

Genetic mutations have been found in approximately 20% of family incidence of ALS. Although other factors such as head trauma and service in the military has been suggested as contributing factors, no scientific evidence has supported these claims.

Recent research has investigated the environmental factors that might contribute to ALS. Once the mutated gene was discovered in ALS cases, scientists pushed even harder to uncover additional contributors to the disease.

Exposure to heavy metals such as lead and mercury has shown a positive association with ALS. However, these results have not been consistent in scientific studies. Dietary factors that relate to trace minerals have also been considered, but ultimately fail to show any real support.

The idea of a viral cause for ALS has also been proposed. Much like the polio virus infects motor nerve cells leading to weakness, researchers have wondered if the same might be true for ALS. Findings have so far not been able to confirm a viral link in ALS.

Prevention

As a result of having no known cause, prevention of ALS cannot be established. For those who suffer from the disease, drugs such as Riluzole have been able to increase the lifespan in many patients.

Currently, new treatments are being researched for possible use. In addition, certain muscle relaxers and painkillers have been helpful in reducing muscle spasms and pain in ALS patients.

ALS has given researchers one of their biggest challenges in healthcare. Although come genetic foundation for its cause has been observed, there is still that hasn’t been uncovered about the disease. With time, studies should begin to provide more evidence, and one day patients may find the relief they’re looking for.

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