ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease)

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also called Lou Gehrig's disease, is a progressive neuromuscular disease that gradually leads to the loss of muscle movement and paralysis. While there is no cure for ALS, our compassionate team works with you to find treatments that can prolong your life and improve your quality of life.

At the ALS Center at Allegheny Health Network (AHN) Neuroscience Institute, you get access to a wide range of specialists and the most effective therapies. Our ALS Center is recognized as a Certified Treatment Center of Excellence by the ALS Association and its western Pennsylvania chapter – the only center in western Pennsylvania to earn this designation.

ALS care at AHN: Why choose us?

Patients and families choose AHN for our:

  • Neuromuscular expertise: Our specialists are highly regarded nationally for their expertise in neuromuscular disorders. Since 2003, our ALS Center has helped hundreds of patients maximize their abilities, experience symptom relief, and live longer lives.
  • Team approach: At AHN’s ALS Center, physicians work closely with respiratory and other therapists, nutrition experts, and mental health specialists to address all your needs – in one place.
  • Novel therapies: We were the first health system in the United States to offer patients the new treatment Radicava®, an intravenous (IV) medication. At AHN, you have access to a range of therapies, including new medications, before they are widely available.
  • Coordinated care: Dedicated team members help you navigate health insurance authorization programs so you can start benefiting from new therapies sooner. And when a medication requires in-home support, we send caring nurses to your home to monitor your health and provide support.
  • Focus on neuroscience research: Our neuromuscular specialists are active in ongoing ALS research. We are studying new medications and technologies, such as hand splints and speech devices, that can help improve the lives of people affected by ALS. Another study, Project Uplift, provides emotional support to caregivers of people with ALS.
  • Extensive support services:Our mental health specialists help patients and their families develop coping strategies to deal with the emotional challenges of ALS. We can also coordinate resources to make a patient’s home handicap accessible.

ALS symptoms

ALS symptoms depend on which parts of the nervous system are affected. Symptoms worsen over time and may include:

  • Muscle weakness in one or both hands, arms, legs, or feet
  • Muscle stiffness or tightness (called spasticity)
  • Trouble using hands for everyday activities, such as holding an item
  • Problems chewing, swallowing, or breathing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Slurred speech
  • Paralysis

ALS diagnosis

At AHN, we use the latest tests to provide you with a precise diagnosis. After performing a thorough physical examination, your physician may recommend one or more tests, including:

  • Electromyogram (EMG): This test measures the electrical activity of muscles.
  • Nerve conduction studies: A nerve conduction velocity test measures the nerves’ ability to send electrical signals. We often perform it along with an EMG to help determine whether the symptoms are related to your nerves or muscles.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): This imaging scan uses powerful magnets to produce detailed images of internal organs and structures. Physicians may use this test to look for other causes of your symptoms.
  • Lumbar puncture: This test, also called a spinal tap, evaluates the cerebrospinal fluid surrounding your brain and spinal cord. We insert a needle into your lumbar area (small of your back) to remove the fluid.
  • Blood tests: Blood tests can help physicians rule out other diseases or conditions.
  • Genetic tests: These tests look for certain genetic mutations, which can determine whether a condition is inherited (passed down through your family).

Get expert ALS treatment at AHN

We will support you through the physical and emotional challenges this condition presents, tailoring your care plan to your circumstances.

Your treatment plan may include:

  • Medication: Certain medications, such as recently approved Radicava™, may slow the disease’s progression. AHN was the first health system to offer this IV infusion treatment option. If we recommend this treatment for you, we’ll help you coordinate the support services so you can receive it at home from an experienced nurse.
  • Respiratory support: Our physicians provide respiratory support by using a bilevel