When a person receives a diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a doctor may prescribe one or more different medications to help treat symptoms and slow the disease’s progression.

ALS, which is also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a rare neurological condition that affects motor neurons. These motor neurons are responsible for voluntary muscle movements. ALS is a progressive condition, meaning it worsens over time. As it progresses, a person will experience symptoms, such as muscle atrophy, involuntary movements or spasms, and muscle weakness.

At present, treatments cannot reverse damage or cure ALS. Doctors typically focus on relieving symptoms, improving quality of life, and helping prevent nerve cell death. Several medications may help with this.

In this article, we will discuss different ALS medications and other medications and treatments that a doctor may recommend for the condition.

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Currently, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved six medications specifically to treat ALS. They include:

  • Edaravone (Radicava): An oral formulation of this medication received approval in 2022.
  • AMX0035 (Relyvrio): This helps prevent nerve-cell death by blocking signals to the cells and also received approval in 2022.
  • Riluzole (Rilutek): This can help extend life by approximately 3 months by preventing the release of glutamate.
  • Riluzole oral film (Exservan): This is an option for people with issues swallowing.
  • Thickened riluzole (Tiglutik): This is another form of riluzole that eliminates issues with crushing the tablet form of the medication.
  • Dextromethorphan HBr and quinidine sulfate (Nuedexta): This treats pseudobulbar affect that may occur along with ALS and causes episodes of uncontrolled laughing or crying.

However, these medications have some large limitations. Experts note they only extend a person’s life expectancy by up to 14 months. Researchers continue to investigate better treatment options that may more effectively treat or cure the disease.

ALS medications may help with slowing nerve cell damage. This can help slow the progression of the disease and help alleviate some symptoms.

In addition to medications doctors use to treat ALS directly, healthcare professionals may prescribe additional medications to help with symptoms, such as:

  • stiffness
  • muscle cramps
  • excess saliva or phlegm
  • constipation
  • depression
  • pain
  • sleep disturbances
  • emotional changes

Due to the variety of different symptoms a person may experience, what additional medications a doctor prescribes or recommends can vary greatly. A person should let a doctor know what symptoms they have so they can make recommendations for treatment. Possible options may include:

  • amitriptyline
  • baclofen
  • gabapentin
  • trihexyphenidyl
  • diazepam

In addition to medications, a doctor will likely recommend one or more supportive treatment options. They can range from assistive devices, such as wheelchairs, to therapies that help reteach skills, such as eating.

Similar to medications doctors recommend for treating symptoms, these recommended therapies will depend largely on a person’s symptoms. Some possible options include:

  • rehabilitation services, which may include speech, physical, occupational, or other therapies
  • breathing support
  • feeding tubes
  • walking assistance, such as braces, walkers, wheelchairs, and other devices

Doctors or therapists may also recommend working with a nutritionist to help with making some lifestyle changes. They can help provide information on foods that a person can safely eat while still getting adequate nutrition.

A person may need several areas of support all at once or may only need to use support and other treatments when necessary. Doctors and therapists can help assess a person’s needs and make appropriate recommendations.

Support groups may also help with treatment and with improving the quality of life for people with ALS and their caregivers and family members. The ALS Association offers several in-person support group options for both those affected and their families.

A person can search for support groups using the association’s website.

Researchers continue to look into options for future treatments of ALS. Treatment options researchers are looking into include:

  • Gene therapy: Genetic changes can play a role in ALS development. Therefore, gene therapy may help with the variations that lead to ALS.
  • Antibody therapies: Antibodies may provide effective therapy in the future, but none currently have FDA approval for use in ALS.
  • Cell-based therapy: A possible avenue of treatment involves cell-based therapies to treat ALS. However, according to a 2019 study, limited evidence suggests its effectiveness in slowing ALS progression, increasing life expectancy, or restoring muscle functions in people with the disease.

Clinical trials play an important role in finding new, safe, and effective treatments for ALS. A person can talk with a doctor about participating in a trial and whether they know about any local trials that are recruiting.

A person can also search for clinical trials for ALS.

ALS is a progressive condition that affects the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that control muscle movement. Symptoms of the condition can quickly decrease a person’s quality of life and life expectancy.

Medications that doctors use to treat ALS help to decrease the speed of progression and prevent symptoms from worsening, but currently, they cannot cure the condition. Other medications and therapies can help address symptoms related to ALS.

Future treatments may help increase life expectancy, slow progression, or potentially cure the condition. People living with ALS can talk with a doctor about participating in a clinical trial to help test new treatments for ALS that may gain approval to treat the condition.