ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), also commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, is a neurodegenerative disease that belongs to a group of disorders called MND’s (Motor Neuron Disorders) which attack the nerve cells responsible for controlling your muscles. Motor neurons are found in the brain, the brain stem, and the final cord, transmitting messages between the upper and lower motor neurons. As a result of ALS, these motor neurons degenerate over time and eventually stop transferring messages to the muscles in our body. As our muscles stop receiving signals, they begin to weaken and lessen the brain’s ability to control voluntary muscle movement. This can also lead to eventual loss of complete mobility, speech, and even affects the ability to breathe.
At Brentwood Medical Clinic located in Burnaby, BC, a short distance from the city of Vancouver, family physician Dr. Ali Ghahary treats patients with complex diseases such as ALS. In Canada, ALS accounts for approximately 3,000 individuals, with 1,000 being newly diagnosed every year. The average life span after an ALS diagnosis is 2 to 5 years.
There are two different forms of ALS. The most common form of ALS, affecting 90% of cases, is known as Sporadic ALS. This can affect individuals of any age, gender or ethnicity. The second form of ALS is known as Familiar ALS. This is hereditary and affects up to 10% of cases; it is also the more difficult form of ALS to diagnose.
Symptoms you may experience as a result of ALS include weakness, pain, fatigue, muscle twitching, paralysis, and the loss of ability to talk, swallow or breathe. Other manifestations of ALS include slurred speech, weight loss, muscle cramps, and tripping or dropping items. While there is no single cause of ALS, Dr. Ali Ghahary works with patients from in and around Vancouver to treat the symptoms associated with the disease. While damage from ALS is irreversible, certain treatment therapies can help to slow down the progression of the symptoms in order to make the patient feel comfortable. One drug known as Riluzole (or Rilutek) is known to significantly slow down the progression of ALS in some patients by reducing Glutamate, a chemical messenger that is found in the brain and usually has increased levels in those diagnosed with ALS. This medication, like many, can cause side effects, including dizziness, changes in liver function, and gastrointestinal problems. Other medications may be used to relieve symptoms such as spasticity, constiptation, pain and sleeping problems – all of which are associated with ALS. In addition to medication, physicians like Dr. Ali Ghahary may refer patients to clinics specifically designed in treating patients that have been diagnosed with ALS. These Vancouver clinics, such as the Vancouver Coastal Health ALS Centre, are able to provide ongoing care and education to individuals with ALS, as well as work alongside healthcare professionals in the province.
The ALS Society of BC also works directly with ALS patients and their families, providing support in addition to raising funds for ALS research.