Health A-Z

Medical Content Created by the Faculty of the Harvard Medical School



There is no cure for ALS.

Riluzole (Rilutek) is the only drug approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for ALS. It has been able to prolong survival in some people. New treatments are under investigation.

A number of medications may help to manage symptoms of ALS. For example, pain medications and muscle relaxants may help with painful muscle spasticity.

Mechanical devices are available to make self-care easier for people with ALS. Examples include dressing aids and special utensils for eating. A cane or walker may help patients who have difficulty walking.

Patients should consider the option of using a mechanical respirator if they become unable to breathe on their own. Artificial ventilation can help some patients survive for years. But many patients choose not to be kept alive in a state of total paralysis.

Patients with ALS should discuss this issue with their doctors early in the illness. That way, decisions about emergency resuscitation can be made according to the patient's wishes in the event of life-threatening breathing problems.

Emotional support is crucial. Much of this support can be provided by the patient's friends and family. But a qualified counselor or psychotherapist also can be a valuable asset.

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From Health A-Z, Harvard Health Publications. Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Written permission is required to reproduce, in any manner, in whole or in part, the material contained herein. To make a reprint request, contact Harvard Health Publications. Used with permission of StayWell.

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