Medication for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis

At NYU Langone, treatment for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) focuses on improving a person’s quality of life by alleviating as many symptoms as possible. NYU Langone physicians prescribe medication to address complications of ALS, such as limb stiffness, pain, and depression.

Muscle relaxants may be prescribed to manage muscle stiffness. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen and aspirin, or other pain medications may also be given to manage pain. Many people use these medications on a long-term basis. 

Riluzole, which research has shown can extend survival by an average of three to six months, may also be prescribed. It works by blocking the release of glutamate, a compound that acts as a “messenger” between nerve cells. In people with ALS, an excess amount of glutamate causes damage to the nerve cells. 

Riluzole may possibly improve muscle function, but it does not stop the disease from progressing. People taking riluzole may not feel or see a change in their symptoms, but studies suggest the medication may help delay the need for a tracheotomy—the creation of an artificial airway in the windpipe to assist with breathing.

Coping with a chronic condition such as ALS can sometimes lead to psychological symptoms, such as stress, anxiety, and depression. If this occurs, our doctors can refer you to NYU Langone psychiatrists for counseling, and, if appropriate, medications that can help to manage depression and anxiety and improve your quality of life. 

An in-depth discussion between you and your doctor is important, so that you can together decide which medication can help you to manage the symptoms of ALS and determine which supportive care options are appropriate for you.

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