A comprehensive ALS Center has opened at the UCSD Medical Center in Hillcrest to diagnose and treat adults with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a progressive neuromuscular condition characterized by degeneration of motor nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. Also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, ALS is estimated to affect as many as 30,000 Americans, with 5,000 new cases diagnosed each year. There are an estimated 300 ALS patients in San Diego, with 20 new cases a year.
The Center will operate a clinic from 8 a.m. to 12 noon Thursdays with a multidisciplinary team of health care specialists including a neurologist, nurse, physical therapist, occupational therapist, speech therapist, respiratory therapist, social worker, orthotist, pulmonologist, gastroenterologist, and psychiatrist and/or psychologist. The Center is available for second opinions on diagnosis. Information is available to those calling 619-543-5300.
Co-directors of the ALS Center are Nayan Desai, M.D. assistant professor of neurosciences, and Geoffrey Sheean, M.D., professor of neurosciences. They will work closely with scientific investigator Don Cleveland, Ph.D., a professor of medicine who runs the UCSD Laboratory for ALS Research in San Diego. His studies into the mechanism of cell death in ALS and potential mechanisms of repair could potentially lead to clinical trials for ALS patients. Timothy Miller, M.D., a neurologist who works with Cleveland, also will see patients at the Center.
Most people who develop ALS are between the ages of 40 and 70, although the disease can occur at a younger age. It occurs throughout the world with no racial, ethnic or socioeconomic boundaries. Some of the most common symptoms are twitching and cramping of muscles, loss of motor control in the hands and arms, impaired use of the arms and legs, weakness and fatigue, falling, dropping things, uncontrollable periods of laughing or crying, and slurred or thick speech and difficulty in projecting the voice. As the disease progresses, symptoms may include shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, difficulty swallowing and paralysis.
The UCSD ALS Center will receive referrals from the ALS Association Greater San Diego Chapter, as well as from physicians throughout San Diego County.
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