ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease)
At Henry Ford Health, our amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) experts treat you like a member of our family. Our commitment to delivering high-quality care has earned our program top honors from the ALS Association. We build lasting relationships with patients, so you can count on us for the right treatments and support as your needs change.
What is ALS?
ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a group of conditions that occur when cells called motor neurons break down. These cells help control movement in your arms, legs and chest, including muscles that help you breathe and swallow. ALS symptoms get worse over time, eventually making it difficult or impossible to move certain muscles.
Treatments may slow the progression of ALS and help you cope with changes to daily life. Coming to an experienced program like ours means you receive the attention you need and tailored services at every turn.
Receiving treatment at a nationally recognized program, such as the one at Henry Ford, improves survival and quality of life. It also eases stress and brings peace of mind to family caregivers.
Lou Gehrig’s disease care at Henry Ford: Why choose us?
Our experts spend time getting to know you, listening carefully as you explain how ALS symptoms affect your life. After a thorough assessment, we use a team approach to deliver the services that best meet your needs.
Highlights of our program include:
- Expertise: Our team includes neurologists who completed additional fellowship training and specialize in ALS care. You receive support from a nurse with years of training and experience caring for ALS patients. Meet our team.
- Coordinated care: When you come to Henry Ford, an entire team of ALS experts stands ready to help. Neurologists, physical therapists, social workers and other specialists anticipate your needs and coordinate services to meet them. Many patients see multiple providers in one visit. Read more about the Harry J. Hoenselaar ALS Clinic.
- Clinical trials: Henry Ford is an active partner in ALS clinical trials. We participate in the largest, most active ALS research group, the Northeast ALS Consortium (NEALS). These efforts give you access to innovative drugs and special options for ALS that runs in families. Explore neurodegenerative diseases research and innovation.
- Leadership: We are international leaders and educators in ALS care. Through speaking engagements, publications and committee work, we share information about ALS research findings and best practices. These efforts are raising the level of ALS care available to people all over the world.
Additional support for ALS patients and their loved ones
An ALS diagnosis brings changes to your life and the lives of your loved ones. We offer ongoing support services to make this transition a little less stressful. Our caring specialists answer your questions and refer you to helpful community resources. Explore our C.A.R.E. Program.
The symptoms of ALS include:
- Muscle stiffness or weakness in the arms and legs
- Muscle twitching or cramping, especially in your hands and feet
- Difficulty speaking, breathing and swallowing
- Poor balance, including tripping over your feet
- Unusual tiredness
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis evaluation
There is no single test to confirm ALS. Doctors make the diagnosis using different types of evaluations, including tests that help rule out other neurodegenerative disorders. We start with a complete medical history. Specialists also perform a neurologic exam to assess muscle strength, coordination and reflexes. This exam helps us determine which additional tests you may need.
Your evaluation may include:
- Blood or urine tests to help us rule out other conditions which may mimic ALS.
- Imaging studies, including magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), to rule out conditions such as brain or spinal cord tumors. This test also checks for signs of stroke or inflammatory diseases of the nervous system.
- Nerve conduction study (electromyography) helps determine the nature and severity of motor nerve issues. This test also rules out other nerve or muscle disorders with symptoms that mimic ALS. Find out more about our electromyography (EMG) lab.
Treatments for ALS
Your personalized treatment plan may include:
- Medications: You may receive medications to slow the progression of ALS or to address specific symptoms.
- Nutrition counseling: Our dietitians help you get the nutrients you need to stay healthy and maintain your weight, even if eating becomes difficult. Read more about nutrition counseling.
- Occupational therapy: As muscle weakness progresses, our therapists teach you new methods for performing daily activities, including eating and getting dressed. They may also recommend devices to help. Explore occupational therapy.
- Physical therapy: We use gentle exercises to help you maintain your strength for as long as possible. Therapists may recommend braces, walkers or wheelchairs. They can also teach caregivers ways to help you. Read more about physical therapy.
- Speech therapy: Our therapists improve your ability to communicate with others or cope with difficulty swallowing. Find out more about speech therapy.
- Breathing assistance: Many people find it easier to breathe with help from portable machines that improve airflow. An experienced pulmonologist and respiratory therapist, both of whom specialize in ALS, deliver these services.
- Support: The team includes a licensed psychologist who helps patients and their loved ones navigate challenges. Additional assistance, including support groups and loaner equipment, is available from ALS of Michigan.