Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, is a progressive disease with symptoms that get worse over time. It affects a person’s nerves in the brain and spinal cord that control the muscles. As muscles get weaker, it gets harder for the person to eat, walk, talk, and breathe. Some people refer to this disease as Lou Gehrig’s disease, as Lou Gehrig was a famous baseball player diagnosed with ALS in the 1930s.
How quickly does ALS progress? There are three stages of this disease, and the progression varies by person. It is important to note that there is support available for people at every stage, including those who need hospice care. In terms of time, people with ALS typically pass around three to five years after they first start experiencing symptoms.
The Early Stage Is Where Most People are Diagnoses
The first stage that people with ALS experience is the early stage. This stage will have people with the disease experiencing muscle weakness, tightness known as spasticity, cramping, and twitching known as fasciculations. Doctors characterize this stage with muscle loss and atrophy.
It can take some time for people who are just starting to experience symptoms to be diagnosed, and the diagnosis typically comes in this first stage. How long does it take to be diagnosed with ALS? Many patients report the process taking a year, as symptoms can mimic other diseases and disorders.
People may first notice symptoms in the hands or arms when doing daily tasks like opening food, cooking, or getting dressed. Some people experience symptoms in their legs at this stage. Symptoms experienced in the early stage include poor balance, loss of hand strength, slips, trips, falls, exhaustion, and slurred words.
The Middle Stage Involves The Disease Progressing
The second stage of ALS is known as the middle stage. This is when muscle weakness and atrophy spread throughout the body. People may experience paralyzed muscles, lose their strength, and have muscle contractions that make it impossible for them to straighten their joints.
In the middle stage, people may have problems walking, swallowing, or chewing food. Eating can be dangerous as ALS increases the chances of choking. Some people have problems speaking and even breathing. Lastly, some people in the middle stage cannot control laughter or crying. Often, a person is not affected mentally in this stage, and they understand and comprehend the negative changes happening to their body.
The Late Stage May Require Hospice Care
The third stage of ALS is the last and is known as the late stage. This is when many people choose hospice care. In the late stage, voluntary muscles can become paralyzed. People typically need to eat and drink through feeding tubes, and they need a ventilator to help them breathe.
The mouth and throat muscles are affected drastically, and speaking is compromised. This last stage is when most of the people suffering from ALS pass from respiratory failure. This happens three to five years after the person starts having ALS symptoms. Other ways that a person with ALS passes include passing from malnutrition, obstruction of a lung artery known as pulmonary embolism, heart arrhythmias where the heart beats too faster or too slow, and from a type of pneumonia caused by aspiration when food or water gets in the patient’s lungs.