What Medications Are Used to Treat ALS?

There are a few medications that can help slow the progression of ALS. Here’s how they work.

There are a few FDA-approved medications used to treat ALS. These medications can help slow the progression of the disease and prolong a person’s life.

Medically reviewed in January 2022

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a rare neurological disease that attacks nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord.

These nerve cells (called motor neurons) send signals that control voluntary muscle movement. When these neurons are damaged, the signals are disrupted, and the ability to control muscle movement is lost.

While every case of ALS is different, symptoms typically begin with difficulty walking, twitching or cramping in muscles, loss of motor control, muscle weakness, and speech problems. While the disease can occur at any age, symptoms most often begin between the ages of 40 and 70. ALS affects both men and women, and there are an estimated 30,000 cases in the United States.

There is no cure for ALS, but there are medications that a healthcare provider may prescribe to a person who has ALS. These may include medications to help people with ALS maintain daily functioning and live longer. They may also include medications to help address specific symptoms caused by ALS.

Medications that treat ALS
There are a few FDA-approved medications used to treat ALS. These medications can help slow the progression of the disease and prolong a person’s life.

Some ALS medications work by reducing the level of glutamate in the body. Glutamate is an amino acid that helps nerve cells send signals. High levels of glutamate can damage motor neurons. Reducing the levels of glutamate has been shown to slow the progression of ALS.

Other medications work by reducing oxidative stress. Oxidative stress refers to high levels of free radicals (a type of cellular waste product) that causes damage to cells and tissues. It is thought to contribute to the death of motor neurons.

There are also a number of clinical trials that may lead to more medication options in the future.

Medications that address symptoms
In addition to medications that treat ALS directly, a healthcare provider may prescribe a number of medications that can ease or help control symptoms that are caused by ALS. These may include medications to help with muscle cramps and spasms, pain, problems with sleep, fatigue, and trouble regulating emotions. If you or a loved one is taking multiple medications, it’s important to understand what each medication does and how and when it should be taken.

In addition to medications, your healthcare provider may recommend working with specialists and therapists, such as physical therapists, occupational therapists, and mental health professionals.

ALS is a different experience for everyone, and it may take time to find the right combination of medications and other therapies that help. If you have any questions or concerns about your diagnosis or treatment, remember that your best source of information will be your healthcare provider.

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MedlinePlus. "Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis."
Johns Hopkins Medicine. "ALS - Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis."
ALS Association. "Who Gets ALS?"
National Organization for Rare Disorders. "Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis."
Mayo Clinic. "Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)."
Abe Amos. "What ALS Treatment Options Are Available Today?" GoodRx Health. August 17, 2021.
USCF Health. "ALS Treatments."
Alexander Starr and Rita Sattler. "Synaptic dysfunction and altered excitability in C9ORF72 ALS/FTD." Brain Research. February 14, 2018.
ALS Association. "FDA-Approved Drugs."
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HSS. "What is ALS?"
Merck Manual Consumer Version. "Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) and Other Motor Neuron Diseases (MNDs)."
Cleveland Clinic. "Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)."

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