Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a debilitating neurodegenerative disease that has profound effects on the human body as it progresses. There are numerous primary symptoms associated with ALS that will significantly affect the day to day living for the diagnosed individual.
Loss of muscle strength, for example, leads to loss of mobility. The individual may eventually be confined to a wheelchair and, during the later stages of the illness, be completely paralyzed. The disease also affects functions such as speech, swallowing and breathing.
One of the primary symptoms experienced by many individuals with ALS is fatigue. While we all get a little tired from time to time, for those with ALS this can range from mild tiredness to extreme, clinically significant levels of fatigue.
Here we take a closer look at the fatigue associated with ALS, what causes it and how individuals can help minimize its impact.
Fatigue can be characterized by tiredness, lack of strength and dwindling energy. It might be caused by a whole range of issues but for most of us disappears when we have had some rest or sleep. For the individual with ALS, fatigue is often a constant issue and one which is accompanied by the gradual weakening of muscle strength.
This means that they may have slower body movements, find it difficult to speak, experience increased irritability and have a lack of focus.
ALS fatigue is caused by the actual process that the disease forces on the individual but is also be influenced by psychological factors which come with coping with its progression. ALS causes neurodegeneration which means that the motor nerves serving muscles in the body gradually get destroyed.
That leads loss of muscle strength which is a huge part of this condition. Someone diagnosed with ALS may have to work extra hard just to lift their arm or swallow some food. This takes a significant toll on the body, something that gets worse as the disease progresses.
ALS fatigue is likely to be an issue at some stage during the progression of the disease. For some, it occurs at the beginning, for others, it only develops as more muscle groups are affected. It can be aggravated by lack of mobility, overexertion, certain medications and even whether the climate is too hot or too cold.
There are a number of medications that can be taken such as amantadine and pemoline which have shown to improve fatigue levels in some patients.
Dietary supplements like creatine may have an effect and promoting a healthy diet can also make a difference, particularly in the early stages of the disease.
Overall, however, fatigue is something that has to be managed.
Whilst there are no real effective treatments for ALS fatigue, most of the attention is focused on how to manage it during the progression of the disease.
Anti-fatigue strategies suggested by the ALS Association include:
Many individuals who have been diagnosed with ALS struggle with fatigue.
This is deeper and more pervasive than many people realize and has a number of causes, not least the gradual muscle wasting that accompanies the disease.
Coping mechanisms, such as regular resting should help the individual manage the issue of fatigue more successfully.