Is There a Cure for ALS?

There is no cure for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). However, researchers continue to look for potential treatments and additional medications to help slow the progression of the disease. Studies are also taking place to improve understanding of the condition and to help identify risk factors that might lead to the development of ALS.

This article discusses current medications and recent advances in the treatment of ALS.

A scientist in the lab looking through a microscope.

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The Stages of ALS

ALS progresses in stages. Early symptoms of ALS can include:

  • Muscle cramps
  • Twitching in the tongue, arms, shoulders, or legs
  • Stiffness
  • Difficulty moving/muscle tightness
  • Weakness in the arms, legs, or neck
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Slurred speech
  • Nasal-sounding speech
  • Swallowing difficulties
  • Difficulty chewing

As ALS progresses, individuals often begin to stumble and fall and have difficulty performing basic daily tasks such as getting dressed or writing.

In advanced stages, muscle weakness leads to an inability to speak, swallow, and walk. Individuals will require mechanical ventilation when the muscles used for breathing (diaphragm) stop working. People with this condition ultimately become wheelchair-dependent.

As ALS progresses, it will eventually lead to death.

Formal Staging of ALS

The two formal staging systems for ALS are:

  • King's staging system: This system focuses on the number of regions in the body that are affected by the condition.
  • Milano-Torina staging system (MiToS): This system tracks the body's loss of function.

Is There an ALS Cure?

There is no cure for ALS. Medications can help slow the progression of the disease, and therapies help individuals with the condition adapt to physical and emotional changes that occur.

Medications

These three medications have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to help slow the progression of ALS:

  • Rilutek (riluzole): This medication decreases levels of glutamate (a neurotransmitter) to help reduce damage to motor neurons. Rilutek is available in pill form, but this medication is also available as thickened liquid (Tiglutik) or as a tablet dissolved on the tongue (Exservan).
  • Radicava (edaravone): This medication is given by intravenous (IV) infusion, orally, or through a feeding tube; it helps slow functional decline for people with ALS.
  • Relyvrio (sodium phenylbutyrate/taurursodiol): Approved in 2022, this medication is in powder form and taken by mixing with water. Relyvrio may lead to longer survival time for individuals with ALS.

Therapies

A variety of therapies can help individuals adapt to the physical and psychological challenges that occur with ALS.

  • Physical therapy: This therapy helps address muscle tightness and pain from ALS. Physical therapists help people with ALS maintain mobility as muscles become weaker. This often includes the use of assistive devices (such as a cane or walker) and choosing an appropriate wheelchair when the individual is no longer able to walk.
  • Occupational therapy: This therapy helps individuals with ALS maintain independence with activities of daily living (ADLs). Occupational therapists teach people how to use adaptive equipment for tasks such as bathing, eating, dressing, and grooming.
  • Speech therapy: ALS affects muscles throughout the body, including the head and neck. As a result, communication becomes difficult. Speech therapists help individuals with ALS learn to talk more clearly and to use alternate forms of communication once they lose the ability to speak. Speech therapists also address swallowing difficulties that develop from ALS.
  • Respiratory therapy: Respiratory therapists help individuals with ALS learn to breathe and cough more effectively as muscles that perform these functions get weaker. When mechanical ventilation becomes necessary, respiratory therapists help people navigate their options.
  • Psychotherapy: ALS affects all aspects of a person's life, which can cause significant anxiety or depression. Psychotherapists and other mental health counselors can help individuals with ALS process the changes that occur with the condition.

Prognosis for ALS

The prognosis for ALS is poor. Average survival time from diagnosis is three years, but a small percentage of individuals with this condition live much longer.

New Advancements in ALS Treatment

Areas of focus for research on ALS include:

  • Potential cell defects that contribute to the breakdown of motor neurons
  • Development of biomarkers (measurable substances) in the body that can help detect ALS and monitor progression of the disease
  • Role of genetics in the development of ALS
  • Stem cell therapy

Researchers also continue to perform clinical trials to study potential new medications that can be used to treat ALS. Individuals with ALS can join the National Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) Registry to learn more about current research and how to donate biological materials (such as deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), blood, or other tissues) to the National ALS Biorepository.

Summary

There is no cure for ALS, but several medications approved by the FDA can help slow the progression of the condition. Therapies help individuals with the condition adapt to the physical and emotional changes that occur with ALS. Researchers continue to study potential new medications and treatments for the disease.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What's the life expectancy for someone with ALS?

    The average survival time for people with ALS is three years. According to the ALS Association, around 20% of people with the condition live for five years, while 5% live for 20 years or more.

  • Can ALS be stopped if it's caught early?

    Unfortunately, there is no cure for or way to prevent ALS from progressing, even with early diagnosis. However, medications can help slow the disease progression.

  • Is it possible for ALS to go into remission?

    Symptoms of ALS progress at different rates for individuals with this condition. However, the disease does not go into remission.

9 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. External research funded by the national ALS registry.

  2. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) fact sheet.

  3. Fang T, Al Khleifat A, Stahl DR, et al. Comparison of the king’s and MiToS staging systems for ALSAmyotroph Lateral Scler Frontotemporal Degener. 2017;18(3-4):227-232. doi:10.1080/21678421.2016.1265565

  4. U.S. Food & Drug Administration. FDA approves oral form for the treatment of adults with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

  5. U.S. Food & Drug Administration. FDA approves new treatment option for patients with ALS.

  6. ALS Association. Stages of ALS.

  7. U.S. National Library of Medicine. ClinicalTrials.gov: ALS.

  8. ALS Association. Who gets ALS?

  9. ALS Association. Understanding ALS.

By Aubrey Bailey, PT, DPT, CHT
Aubrey Bailey is a physical therapist and professor of anatomy and physiology with over a decade of experience providing in-person and online education for medical personnel and the general public, specializing in the areas of orthopedic injury, neurologic diseases, developmental disorders, and healthy living.