Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, is a rare neuromuscular disease that causes muscle weakness. The disease kills nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that control muscle movement. As a result, people with ALS gradually lose control of the muscles that help them move, speak, eat and breathe.
You may know ALS as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Gehrig, a famous baseball player, died of ALS in 1941.
While a cure for ALS doesn’t exist, our providers at our ALS Clinic work with you and your family to reduce your symptoms and improve your quality of life.
ALS Care at UVM Medical Center
- Comprehensive care - Our clinic is recognized by the ALS Association as a Certified Treatment Center of Excellence.
- Experience and expertise - Our doctors have been caring for ALS patients for about 30 years.
- Research - Our physicians participate in research to improve the understanding, diagnosis and treatment of ALS.
- Personalized care - Our specialists work with you and your family to find the best treatment for you.
Our specialists work together to manage your treatment plan. To ensure you are getting the best treatment, we offer:
- Pre-appointment check-in: a nurse will contact you within a week of your scheduled appointment to review any changes and identify concerns.
- Appointment pre-consultation: We use pre-appointment check-in information to determine which specialists you most need to see.
- Post-appointment consultation: After your appointment, our team meets to discuss any changes to your treatment plan.
ALS can be challenging to diagnose. There’s no single test for it and symptoms can seem like those of other neuromuscular diseases. The faster you get an accurate diagnosis, the sooner you can start your treatment. We bring together all of the resources you need to make the correct diagnosis.
The doctors in charge of our ALS lab are specially trained in performing the following procedures:
- Electromyography (EMG) - EMG measures how well your nerves and muscles function. During this procedure, your doctor places a thin needle-like electrode into a muscle to measure your muscle’s electrical activity at rest and during contractions. This can help determine whether muscle weakness is due to a nerve problem or a problem with the muscle itself.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) - MRIs produce detailed images of your brain and spinal cord. Your doctor uses this information to determine whether certain conditions, such as spinal cord or brain tumors, herniated disks, or brain injuries, may be causing your symptoms.
- Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) - This specialized MRI scan helps identify nerve loss in the corticospinal tract, which conducts messages from the brain to the spinal cord.
- Nerve Conduction tests - This test measures your nerves’ ability to send electrical signals from your spinal cord to your muscles. This test helps determine whether you have nerve damage or certain muscle diseases.
- Nerve muscle biopsies - A biopsy is the painless removal of pieces of muscle or a small piece of a nerve to determine if the nerve supply to the muscle is dying. This may indicate ALS.
Once you’ve received a diagnosis of ALS, our expert team will develop a treatment plan to minimize your symptoms and help you remain strong and independent for as long as possible.
We gather all the specialists you need in one location to determine the best treatment for you:
- Neurologist - to manage your treatment.
- Speech and language pathologist - to help you with communication and and swallowing.
- Physical therapist - to help you remain as physically independent as possible.
- Occupational therapist - to teach you new ways of doing everyday activities like brushing your teeth.
- Respiratory therapist - to address breathing problems as your chest muscles weaken.
- Spiritual care provider - to help with end-of-life decision-making.
- Research coordinator - to provide information on opportunities for you to participate in ALS research.
- Palliative care nurse - to focus on your comfort and well-being.
- Social worker - to help with financial issues, insurance and getting and paying for devices and modifications to your home.
- Mental health care expert - to provide emotional support for you and your family.
- Registered dietitian - to ensure that you are eating the foods that will help you feel as good as possible.
- Muscular Dystrophy Association representative - to help you acquire a wheelchair or other device.
Treatment usually includes medications to slow the progress of the disease and relieve symptoms.
ALS at UVM Medical Center: How We Compare
We have the only full-service ALS clinic in Vermont and one of the most experienced ALS teams in the region.