Our comprehensive, team-based ALS care is individualized to maximize your quality of life.
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a disease that attacks the parts of the brain responsible for controlling voluntary muscles. ALS is also commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease.
ALS is part of a group of diseases known as motor neuron disease. These diseases are characterized by the degeneration and death of motor neuron cells.
The progression of ALS varies. Some people live less than three years after diagnosis, while others live more than 10 years. Currently there is no cure for ALS.
Common ALS signs and symptoms include the following:
- Muscle twitching (known as fasciculation)
- Muscle cramps
- Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)
- Difficulty breathing (dyspnea)
- Muscle weakness, usually affecting one arm or leg first
- Speech problems, such as slurred or abnormal speech patterns
ALS Diagnosis at Rush
- Because of the prognosis of ALS, obtaining an accurate diagnosis is critical. Some ALS symptoms are also symptoms of other conditions, including neuropathy, multiple sclerosis, spinal tumor or herniated disc.
- To find the cause of your symptoms, our neuromuscular disease experts will perform an electromyography (EMG) and nerve conduction study.
- This test measures the health and functioning of your nerves and muscles. It also identifies whether a problem exists in the connection between a motor neuron and a muscle.
ALS Treatment at Rush
If you are diagnosed with ALS, Rush neuromuscular experts will work with you to create an individualized treatment plan.
Our goal for treatment is to help with your quality of life. To achieve this, we coordinate care from multiple specialties to address the full range of symptoms you may have.
Your plan may include some of the following:
- Medical therapy may include the use of riluzole, edaravone or both, with the goal of slowing the progression of ALS. You may also be able to enroll in clinical trials of potential new medical therapies.
- Your doctors may also prescribe medications to address the following:
- ALS symptoms, such as muscle cramps
- Other conditions that may develop as ALS progresses, like excessive saliva (sialorrhea), involuntary emotional expression (pseudobulbar affect), depression or anxiety
Physical, Occupational and Speech Therapy
- Physical therapists and occupational therapists at Rush can teach you exercises to strengthen affected muscles without overworking them.
- They can also teach you stretching techniques to address muscle spasticity. This is when your muscles contract, spasm or become stiff uncontrollably — a common issue in ALS.
- Speech therapists at Rush can help you address problems with your speech and swallowing.
- Dietitians at Rush can recommend ways to maintain your dietary needs as swallowing becomes more difficult.
- Orthotists at our downtown Chicago location can help fit you if you need a brace for support.
- Mobility specialists can guide you on the best assistive device for your needs, whether its a wheelchair, cane or walker.
- During your evaluation, your doctors will recommend a pulmonary function test for your breathing.
- If the test shows weakness in the muscles you use to breathe, you'll see a Rush pulmonologist to discuss additional respiratory support.
- Respiratory support may include exercises, a cough assist device and noninvasive positive pressure ventilation.
- Your ALS team at Rush includes a nurse and a social worker who are available to provide counseling resources.
- In addition, a care coordinator from the ALS Association is available to support you, including through home visits.
Rush Excellence in ALS Care
- Diagnostic expertise: Neuromuscular physicians at Rush have conducted thousands of muscle and nerve tests. As a result, we can detect subtle issues with your muscles and nerves. This allows us to arrive at a diagnosis with great accuracy.
- ALS Association affiliate: Rush University Medical Center is an affiliate of the Greater Chicago Chapter of the ALS Association. That means our Chicago location provides you with team-based, multidisciplinary ALS care, services and resources.
- ALS care in Oak Brook and online: We know that mobility issues may make it hard to visit our downtown location on a regular basis. Our neuromuscular specialists can also meet with you in Oak Brook. And we offer video visits for all appointment types other than respiratory function testing.
- Support for your emotional health: Many people with ALS experience depression or anxiety due to their rapid physical degeneration. Social workers at our downtown location can meet with you for individual counseling, and our providers can connect you with other therapists as needed.
- Nationally recognized expertise: Rush University Medical Center is consistently ranked among the best in the nation for neurology and neurosurgery.