Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) or Lou Gehrig’s Disease

Penn Neurology cares for patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) also known as Lou Gehrig's disease or motor neuron disease.

ALS is a neurodegenerative disorder characterized by the loss of motor neurons in the brain and spinal cord (nerve cells) that control muscles. This results in muscular weakness that worsens over time while producing ever increasing physical disabilities. It can culminate in life threatening weakness of breathing and/or swallowing muscles.

Diagnosing ALS

Penn neurologists offer consultation and advanced neurodiagnostic testing to diagnose ALS. The diagnosis of ALS is made from evaluating a patient's medical history and performing a complete physical examination by a neurologist experienced in neuromuscular disorders.

Diagnostic tests may include:

  • Biopsy of nerve and/or muscle
  • Laboratory testing (blood, urine, spinal fluid)
  • Lumbar puncture (spinal tap)
  • Nerve conduction studies and electromyography (EMG)
  • Neuroimaging (MRI or CT scanning of brain and spine)

Treatment for ALS

Penn's ALS Center is designated by the national Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Association (ALSA) as a Center of Excellence providing multidisciplinary care to patients with ALS and related disorders. Center goals include:

  • Establishing a definitive diagnosis in patients referred for possible ALS
  • Providing comprehensive care, once a diagnosis is established, in a supportive and understanding environment, which will enable the patient to attain the best possible level of neurological functioning and the best possible quality of life

The ALS Team

Our team consists of experienced providers from multiple disciplines including, neurology, pulmonology, nursing, physical and occupational therapy, speech therapy, nutrition, social service, mental health, genetic counseling, and assistive technology. Patients benefit from personalized care throughout the course of the disease, while family and caregivers benefit from our support services.

The ALS Center offers patients and families the following services:

  • A multidisciplinary approach to care to maximize patient function
  • Coordinated care with primary care physicians
  • Ongoing individualized care of patients with ALS
  • Opportunities to participate in research protocols
  • Patient and family education about the disease process and expectations
  • Patient and family education about the latest research initiatives
  • Specialized services for patients with ALS and related disorders

Treatment for ALS may include the following:

  • Medications (including Riluzole®)
  • Occupational therapy
  • Physical therapy
  • Speech therapy

Research and Clinical Trials for ALS

The ALS Center actively engages in research. Patients can elect to enroll in a clinical trial of a drug or other treatment. Patients can also elect to participate in research in neuroimaging, biomarkers, genetics, cognitive function and brain donation through our close collaboration with Penn Neuroradiology, the Penn Frontotemporal Degeneration (FTD) Center and the Penn Center for Neurodegenerative Disease Research.