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Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis: Treatment and Prognosis

Treatment Options

Scientists have not yet found a cure for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the first drug treatment for ALS, which is called riluzole (Rilutek®). Riluzole is believed to reduce damage to motor neurons and prolong survival by several months (mainly in those with difficulty swallowing).
Other treatments are designed to relieve symptoms and improve the quality of life. Drugs are also available to help individuals with:
Individuals with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis may eventually consider forms of mechanical ventilation (respirators).
(Click Treatment of ALS for more information.)

Prognosis With Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis

Regardless of the part of the body that is first affected by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, muscle weakness and atrophy spread to other parts of the body as the disease progresses. Individuals with this condition will have increasing difficulties with moving, swallowing, and speaking or forming words.
Eventually, people with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis will not be able to:
  • Stand or walk
  • Get in or out of bed on their own
  • Use their hands and arms.
In later stages, individuals will have difficulty breathing as the muscles of the respiratory system weaken. Although ventilation support can ease problems with breathing and prolong survival, it will not affect the progression of the disease.
Most people with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis will die from respiratory failure within three to five years from the start of their symptoms. However, about 10 percent of people with the condition will survive for ten or more years.
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