Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a progressive disease that breaks down tissues in the nervous system. A neurodegenerative disease, ALS is also known as Motor Neuron Disease and Lou Gehrig’s disease (named after the baseball player who brought the disease to public attention).

Motor neurons span from the brain to the spinal cord and to muscles throughout the body. Normally motor neurons carry electrical messages from the brain to the muscles to stimulate muscle movement in the arms, legs, trunk, neck, and head. ALS affects nerve cells in the brain and in the spinal cord. When motor neurons degenerate and die, the ability of the brain to control muscle movement is lost. As the disease progresses, patients may become totally paralyzed and may develop serious difficulties clearing secretions from their lungs due to lack of effective cough and breathing capabilities; at this point, airway clearance therapy may be indicated.

There is no cure or effective treatment for ALS. However, many things can be done to help maintain quality of life and to retain functional ability, including effective airway clearance therapy. ALS typically progresses rapidly. About 10% of people with ALS live longer than eight years.

Physicians may prescribe vest therapy for ALS patients who cannot clear airway secretions without help.