ALS affects the neurons and subsequently the body’s muscles. Understanding what ALS is and how it progresses through the various stages helps patients with ALS and their loved ones prepare. Of course, every patient has a different experience with ALS, and some cases progress more quickly than others.
If concerning symptoms exist that suggest an early stage of ALS, then a prompt evaluation and diagnosis is strongly encouraged. The early stages of ALS may not show concerning symptoms, and receiving a diagnosis allows everyone time to prepare.
Since there is no known cure for ALS, the goal of treatment is to manage the symptoms, deal with emotional issues caused by ALS and ensure the patient has the support and assistance they need once muscle weakness and paralysis start to take place. This review provides a guide to what ALS is, how quickly it progresses and how hospice care can help manage symptoms in the late stages.
What Is ALS And How To Spot Symptoms
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a disease that affects the neurons. The disease attacks the muscles primarily, which leads to an inability to function normally in the mid and late stages. It is progressive, meaning the symptoms worsen over time. Unfortunately, there is no known cure for ALS, and the goal of treatment is to manage the physical symptoms and emotional distress.
Patients who experience early symptoms of ALS should visit a doctor to determine if ALS is the cause of the symptoms. An early diagnosis allows the patient to properly prepare for a long-term care plan to manage the symptoms and maintain the best possible quality of life. Patients can ensure an early diagnosis by understanding the symptoms of the early stages of ALS (see below) and taking action promptly if multiple symptoms develop and become chronic.
How ALS Is Diagnosed
- Muscle cramps and weakness
- Involuntary muscle twitches
- Chronic fatigue and lack of motivation
- Poor balance and difficulty walking
- Chronic headaches
- Slurred speech
If concerning symptoms exist, then the doctor may order various tests to confirm a potential ALS diagnosis. Several common tests the doctor may perform include an electromyography (EMG), nerve conduction velocity (NCV), spinal tap, blood and urine test, muscle biopsy, nerve biopsy, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and X-rays. They may also perform a neurological evaluation depending on the symptoms.
Progression And Stages Of ALS
There are three main stages of ALS, which include the early stage, middle stage and late stage. The rate of progression varies, although there is no cure for the disease, and the goal for treatment is to manage the symptoms of each stage. The more common symptoms of the different stages of ALS include:
- Early Stage – As discussed, the early symptoms of ALS include muscle cramps and weakness, involuntary twitches, poor balance, chronic fatigue and slurred speech. Not all cases include or are limited to these symptoms.
- Middle Stage – Common symptoms of the middle stage of ALS include some muscle paralysis, difficulty standing, breathing complications and more widespread muscle pain.
- Late (End) Stage – The symptoms in the final stages of ALS typically include severe muscle paralysis, the inability to speak or eat, breathing complications, chronic headaches and severe fatigue.
Most deaths caused by ALS are due to respiratory complications. The pain caused by ALS can typically be managed and kept to a minimal level through medication, therapy and other interventions offered in palliative and hospice care.
Managing Symptoms With Hospice Care
Hospice care is for ALS patients in the end stages. It is designed to help ALS patients maintain the best possible quality of life and remain comfortable in the end stages. Hospice care is often required, as the patient most likely will not be able to support themselves adequately, and hospice care workers take the pressure of providing adequate care away from close family members.
In the late stages, the physical symptoms of ALS are severe. In addition to discomfort, the patient most likely will not be able to move around on their own, eat, speak or breathe without difficulty. Hospice care can also assist family members who are dealing with emotional issues as they assist their loved one in the late stages of ALS.
Learn More With Harbor Light Hospice
Harbor Light Hospice provides care for ALS patients and their family members. We believe every ALS patient should have the opportunity to maintain the best possible quality of life despite their condition. If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with ALS and is progressing toward or is in the late stages, then contact our team today by phone or email to start the hospice care process.