10 Answers to Your ALS Questions

ALS Ice bucket challengeYou’ve likely seen or participated in the “Ice Bucket Challenge,” with celebrities like Oprah Winfrey and Bill Gates posting their challenges on social media, but how much do you know about ALS  or Lou Gehrig’s disease? A neurodegenerative disease that weakens and atrophies muscles, ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) symptoms often include difficulty breathing, muscle weakness, and voice changes.

It’s a disease that hits home for one of our HealthTappers (read her story here). HealthTap’s Dr. Kwok adds, “While few cases may be due to a genetic defect, the cause is usually unknown.” What exactly is ALS? Our HealthTap doctors weigh in.

 What is ALS?

“In brief, it’s a neurologic disease. Amylotrophic lateral sclerosis – a neurologic disease that affects motor function, leads to muscle weakness and significant disability. Also known as Lou Gehrigs disease.” – Dr. Slade Sucheki

“Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is a disease of a misfolded protein (superoxide dismutase) causing death of the motor neuron cell body and therefore resultant weakness, muscle atrophy, flickering of muscle tissue, and eventual loss of mobility, with inability to breathe or swallow. It is difficult to treat, has no cure, but is rare.” – Dr. Bennet Machanic

careIs ALS painful?

“No. ALS is a progressive neuromuscular disorder. Only the motor neurons and muscles are affected. The sensory nerves remain intact, so the patient can feel pain, but the disease itself does not cause pain.” – Dr. Steven Bowers

Does ALS affect the mind?

“Yes. Als, can cause moodswings, memory loss, and difficulty deciding.” – Dr. John Moseri

Is ALS contagious?

“No. ALS, also called Lou Gehrig’s disease, results from an attack on the spinal cord motor cells. This can be hereditary, but is not caused by a bacteria or virus one can catch.” – Dr. Kevin Teal

How is amyotrophic lateral sclerosis transmitted in humans?

“90% of cases are sporadic, without clearcut genetics, and this is not known to be infectious. Of the 10% familial cases, 25% of these have a mutation in the gene encoding copper/zinc superoxide dismutase.” Dr. Bennett Machanic

What are the symptoms of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis?

“The main symptoms of ALS are weakness. The weakness often starts with one hand and then may progress to the other. The legs will often become weak as well. The muscles begin to get thinner. This is called atrophy. There may also be exaggerated reflexes and stiffness in the muscles called spasticity. The muscles that help us speak and swallow and breath can also be weakened.” – Dr. Jay Rosenfeld

handsCan brain damage cause ALS?

“Possibly. Recent research suggests that a history of multiple concussions increases the risk of ALS, but more research is needed. Fortunately, the vast majority of those with concussions will never get ALS. The cause of ALS is largely unknown; genetic factors play a role in some cases. Lyme disease may cause symptoms very similar to ALS; should thus be ruled out.” – Dr. Randy Baker

At what age does ALS onset occur?

“Symptoms usually develop after age 50.” – Dr. Lucia Zamorano

Is there a cure for ALS?

“Although there is a lot of research attempting to find a cure or opportunity to better manage this dreaded condition, at present there is no known cure. The course of progression is variable depending on the individual and there are some new pharmaceuticals that have not been introduced to the market yet that are under investigation.” – Dr. Keith Rafal

What have been the latest advances in ALS research?

“A number of established agents have recently been investigated for their potential as neuroprotective agents, including antibiotics and minocycline. Progress has also been made in exploiting growth factors for the treatment of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, partly due to advances in developing effective delivery systems to the central nervous system but overall out looks so far is not great yet.” – Dr. Atif Malik

For more information, visit the ALS page on HealthTap. For details about the Ice Bucket Challenge or to donate to the cause, visit the ALS Association’s website. Together, we can eliminate ALS.

Do you have another question about ALS? Ask our doctors now.


AppRx: Top Ten Best Baby Apps

Baby sleeping with pacifierEvery week, we bring you AppRx—high-quality health, fitness and wellness apps reviewed and recommended by HealthTap’s network of 62,000 top doctors. In this week’s edition, we take a look at 10 Best Baby Apps.



1. White Noise

AppRx | White Noise | HealthTapDescription: Does your newborn baby wake up in the middle of the night? There are numerous benefits to using White Noise. Features ambient sounds of the environment to help your baby relax during the day and sleep great at night. White Noise generates sounds over a wide range of frequencies, masking noise interruptions, so your baby can not only fall asleep, but stay asleep. Learn More.

Recommended By: 104 Doctors

Available On: Android – $1.99

2. BabyBump Pregnancy Free

DescriptioAppRx | BabyBump Pregnancy Free | HealthTapn: BabyBump Free is comprehensive pregnancy app that keeps soon-to-be parents informed about their pregnancy progress and enables tracking and sharing the experience with family and friends. Provides daily tips and weekly details about your baby’s size and weight and development, along with common symptoms, cravings, and bodily changes you can expect to experience each week. Learn More.

Recommended By: 68 Doctors

Available On: Android – FREE

3. WomanLog Pregnancy Calendar

AppRx | WomanLog Pregnancy Calendar | HealthTapDescription: WomanLog Pregnancy is a pregnancy calendar for women. All the main functions are accessible via the calendar. Tapping a finger on the calendar date, you can add and edit the settings for each day. Learn More.

Recommended By: 18 Doctors

Available On: Android – FREE

4. ExpectingBaby by Enfamil

AppRx | ExpectingBaby by Enfamil | HealthTapDescription: ExpectingBaby helps you track and share your amazing journey through all three stages of pregnancy planning, delivery, and announcing baby’s arrival. Each week you can learn about your baby’s development, share amazing milestones, thoughts and photos, and manage all your to-dos as you count down to baby’s arrival. When it’s go time, you’ll find all the tools you need to count your contractions, notify family and friends, and get to the hospital. Learn More.

Recommended By: 11 Doctors

Available On: Android- FREE

5. I’m Pregnant

AppRx | I'm Pregnant | HealthTapDescription: Each week of pregnancy brings something new for you, for your baby, and for your partner! Find out what is going on with your baby during your pregnancy and what changes to expect in mom during pregnancy. The application will give you details on your baby’s development and what is happening to mom during her pregnancy. Learn More.

Recommended By: 9 Doctors

Available On: Android – FREE

6. Obstetrics (+ Pregnancy Wheel)

AppRx | Obstetrics (+ Pregnancy Wheel) | HealthTapDescription: Obstetrics is an OB reference application for pregnant women, physicians, medical students, midwives, and nurses. It contains a pregnancy wheel (OB wheel) to calculate estimated due date, gestational age, dates of conception, end of the 1st trimester, and end of the 2nd trimester by last menstrual period or ultrasound. After calculating this information, the application provides recommended screening tests for that gestational age. Learn More.

Recommended By: 7 Doctors

Available On: Android – $1.99

7. Infant Age Calculator

AppRx | Infant Age Calculator  | HealthTapDescription: Infant Age Calculator is a great tool for medical professionals such as registered nurses, pediatricians, and health visitors. Infant Age Calculator gives you the infant’s age in weeks and days, as well as provides you the adjusted age (or corrected age) for premature babies. More features to be added soon! Learn More.

Recommended By: 5 Doctors

Available On: Android – $0.99

8. Baby Sitter Seal

AppRx | Baby Sitter Seal  | HealthTapDescription: This is a must-have app that can be used for newborns and young toddlers. Stop your infant from crying using technology. “White Noise” and “Animation” will help soothe your baby and woo it to sleep. Watch the app work like magic as soon as it starts! Learn More.

Recommended By: 5 Doctors

Available On: Android – FREE

9. Newborn Baby Log

AppRx | Newborn Baby Log  | HealthTapDescription: The newborn baby can appear jaundiced because their metabolism is not mature yet. If they are not fed enough milk, it can get worse. For this reason, whoever is caring for the baby is required to fill a form that logs the feeding and used diapers. This software is the digital edition of the form so you can log this data by yourself. Learn More.

Recommended By: 3 Doctors

Available On: Android – FREE

10. OB Wheel Suite Pro

AppRx | OB Wheel Suite Pro | HealthTap Description: This suite contains 3 applications: An OB Wheel, a Body Mass Index and a Bishop Score. The OB Wheel allows you to calculate information about the patient and the fetus like gestational age by last period date or ultrasound and normality and abnormality parameters both maternal and fetal. It makes queries by Last Menstrual Period (LMP), Gestation weeks, Ultrasounds and Fundal Height. Learn More.

Recommended By: 3 Doctors

Available On: Android – $2.99

For more Baby apps, visit HealthTap today!  And stay tuned for next week’s edition, 10 Best Diabetes Apps!


Wellness Series: 5 Facts About Immunizations

Immunizations are incredibly important to ensuring one’s health. HealthTap’s Dr. Robert Kwok provides a thorough list of immunizations common for people in the United States. His recommendations:

  • During infancy: Hepatitis B, Diphtheria, Tetanus, Pertussis, Pneumococcal, Hemophilus, Rotavirus, Polio, and Influenza
  • During childhood: Chicken Pox, Measles, Mumps, Rubella, and Hepatitis
  • For teens: Meningococcal and Papilloma virus vaccines

This may seem like a lot of immunizations, but obtaining the proper vaccines can help you and the people around you remain healthy. Here are 5 more facts about immunizations.


What is an immunization?

“The body is artificially exposed to a dead or weakened organism of a type able to cause disease. The body fights the organism and learns to protect itself, so disease will not develop if the virulent, wild-type organism is met.” – Dr. Ed Friedlander

Is there a link between immunizations and autism?

“No. There is no scientifically validated link between immunizations and autism. There have been ‘accusations’ that the preservative (thimerosol) previously present in many vaccines and/or administration of the MMR as a combination vaccine increased the risk of autism, but many well-performed studies show that no link exists.” – Dr. Thomas McDonagh


What is the immunization schedule for a healthy adult?

“For someone who has had all recommended childhood vaccines the following are recommended for adults: dt (diphtheria tetanus) every 10 years, with 1 dose of dtap (diphtheria tetanus pertussis); hpv (3 shots) for women and men under 26; shingles for adults 60 and older (once); pneumococcal at 65 or older (once); and flu every year. Ask your doctor if you’re at risk for other preventable infections.” – Dr. Janet Greenhut

If my child gets an immunization, can he still get the disease he is protected against?

“Yes – though not common, it is possible to get the illness the vaccine is designed to protect against. However, if this occurs, it is typical that the illness is a much milder form of the disease. It is much better to get an attenuated form of the illness due to partial immunity rather than the “full blown” disease itself.” – Dr. Lisa Roberts


What can I do to ease the pain after receiving and immunization shot?

“When our bodies sustain an injury, the immediate response is inflammation (red, hot, pain, swelling). This is the body increasing the blood flow to the injury to bring healing factors to the area and also the veins expand to carry bad stuff away. The key is to do things that reduce the parts of inflammation such as ice, compression, elevation and anti-inflammatory medications in the first 24-36hrs.” – Dr. Michael Miller

We encourage you to visit the Immunization topic page on HealthTap for more tips, checklists, and news.  As always, our 62,000 doctors are ready to answer your health questions any time. Ask today!

On Robin Williams and Mental Health

robinOur HealthTap team was extremely saddened by the news of actor and comedian Robin Williams’ passing, and our thoughts are with his loved ones during this difficult time. News outlets have shared that Williams was battling depression, a factor that may have led to his death. Depression is a very serious disorder in the United States; according to the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, it affects nearly 7% of Americans annually. We’ve put together a few facts about depression below. For more information, visit the Depression page on the HealthTap site.

What is depression?

“Includes being down or sad most of the time, loss of interest/pleasure in usual activities, unintended increase or decrease in appetite/weight, sleeping more or less than usual, being agitated or lethargic, feeling worthless or inappropriately guilty or self critical, having difficulty concentrating or making decisions, & thinking of death & dying. Suicidal thoughts/plans require immediate help.” – Dr. Bob Stewart

What is the difference between depression and chronic depression?

“You can be depressed over something that is happening in your life and it will last for a day or a week.That is not clinical or major depression. Chronic depression or major depression last for more than 2 weeks and generally much longer than that with only brief periods of relief. That kind of depression needs professional treatment. See your MD, or a psychologist or psychiatrist.” – Dr. Kathryn Seifert

How does one treat clinical depression?

“First you need to have a thorough evaluation by your family doctor, and if appropriate by a psychiatrist next. There are medical reasons for depression (e.g. Thyroid disease, diabetes, others). Once the diagnosis is made, there are two effective treatments: cognitive behavioral therapy and ssri/snri medications. The best is to use both.” – Dr. John O’Malley

What are symptoms of depression?

“Symptoms of depression can include: feeling sad, irritable or angry. There can be a decrease in sex drive. Energy level & motivation levels may drop. One may socially isolate or stop involvement in normal activities. Sleep may increase or decrease. Weight can change in relation to increase or decrease in appetite. Concentration or memory may decline. There can be an absence of joy as well as feelings of helplessness or hopelessness. Self esteem may plummet and feelings of guilt may rise. There may be crying spells or thoughts about death or suicide. Confidence in making decisions may drop.” – Dr. Heidi Fowler

Depression is a treatable disorder; if you or a loved one are dealing with depression, there are ways to help. You are not alone. To learn more, visit HealthTap to ask a question today.

Keeping Ebola Fears in Perspective

Five Bigger Health Threats than Ebola to Americans Right Now—And What You Can Do About Them

While we all watch the Ebola outbreak in West Africa with justified concern—and while some observers have even expressed concern about the risk of bringing Americans with the disease home to the US—it’s worth remembering that we already know where Americans who are really worried about health risks should be focusing their concerns if they want to stay healthy: Disease prevention and health screenings, safe driving, and adopting healthy lifestyles.

AA0422601. Inaction

Inaction is our biggest threat when it comes to preventing disease and serious health threats. According to the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, optimal use of nine clinical interventions including colonoscopies, screening and treatment for high blood pressure, and the flu vaccine could prevent up to 100,000 deaths per year in people under 80 years old, and up to 40,000 deaths per year in people under 65. Yet only about a quarter of adults ages 50 to 65 are up to date on recommended immunizations and cancer screening tests, the CDC reports. HealthTap doctors offer more information on health screenings here.

2. Heart disease

This disease kills more Americans than any other disease every year. According to the American Heart Association, heart disease, which causes heart attacks and strokes, kills more people than all forms of cancer combined, and Americans can reduce their risk immediately by quitting smoking, managing high blood pressure, losing excess weight, and adopting a heart-healthy diet. HealthTap doctors weigh in on risk factors here.

3. Cancer

Cancer risk can be significantly reduced by lifestyle choices—not smoking, eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, using sunscreen and by getting regular cancer screenings recommended by your doctor. For more information about the most common types of cancer, risk factors, tests and tips, visit the Cancer Topic Page on HealthTap.

4. Stroke

Stroke is the number three cause of death in women, and the number four cause of death in men and, like heart disease, stroke-related risks can be reduced by making healthy life choices that include not smoking, staying active and exercising more, losing weight, and adopting a heart-healthy diet. Learn about risk factors from our HealthTap doctors here.

5. Traffic Accidents

Traffic Accidents are the leading cause of fatal injuries in both men and women according to the Mayo Clinic and the Centers for Disease Control. By wearing your seat belt, adopting a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to drinking and driving, and putting your cell phone away so you never drive while distracted by phone calls or texts, you’ll be reducing your risk of injury or death on the road.

Keeping health risks in perspective is one of the most important things you can do to stay healthy. Americans concerned about their health can be proactive about preventing and detecting the risks that are the greatest threats to their health.

Got more questions about staying healthy? Get free answers to your health questions from 62,000 HealthTap doctors now.