Treatment for ALS and Neuromuscular Disorders

Treatment for ALS

There is no cure for ALS. At this time, only the drug Rilutek (riluzole) is known to slow the progression of ALS. It can help people with ALS live a few months longer than they would without this medication.

New clinical trials (research studies of new treatments or drugs in humans) are always being planned as researchers work to help people with ALS. The OHSU ALS and Neuromuscular Disease Center is part of the OHSU Brain Institute, known around the United States as a leader in brain and nervous system research.

Most ALS treatment is given to relieve symptoms such as muscle twitching, cramps and other symptoms. Treatment options include:

Physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech or swallowing therapy

  • Massage
  • Respiratory (breathing) therapy

Ventilators and feeding tubes can help people with advanced ALS.

Treatment for hereditary neuropathies

There is no standard treatment for hereditary neuropathies such as Charcot-Marie-Tooth disorder (CMT). Most treatments are given to relieve symptoms and improve function. These may include:

  • Orthopedic surgery
  • Wearing braces to improve mobility (ability to move around)
  • Protection from stress fractures, especially in the feet and legs

Genetic counseling is also available. If you or someone in your family has CMT, genetic testing and counseling can help you decide whether to have children, tell you if you or your children are likely to have a hereditary neuropathy or give you other information.

Treatment for muscular dystrophies

There is no specific treatment for any of the forms of muscular dystrophy (MD). Most treatments are given to relieve symptoms and improve function. These may include:

  • Respiratory (breathing) therapy
  • Physical therapy to keep muscles loose and flexible and prevent pain
  • Orthopedic equipment to support the body
  • Orthopedic surgery to correct body changes or deformities caused by MD
  • A pacemaker to correct heart problems

Corticosteroid medications such as prednisone can slow the rate of muscle deterioration in people with Duchenne MD. These medications cause side effects, which are different for each person. Your OHSU ALS and Neuromuscular Disorders specialist can help you decide on the best treatment.

Myotonia is usually treated with medications such as mexiletine, phenytoin or quinine.

Treatment for myasthenia gravis and Lambert-Eaton syndrome

Some medications can improve muscle strength or suppress the production of abnormal antibodies. However, such medications must be used under a doctor's supervision because of major side effects. Some people may benefit from surgical removal of the thymus gland. Temporary relief may be accomplished with replacement of blood plasma (plasmapheresis) and intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG). These are intravenous (IV, into a vein) treatments you receive in a clinic or hospital. Talk with your OHSU ALS and Neuromuscular Disorders specialist about the best treatment options for you.