Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a progressive muscle-wasting condition. Although it can affect each patient in different ways, as the condition worsens many may find it increasingly difficult to eat and drink.

Common issues can include difficulties chewing and swallowing as the muscles of the throat and mouth weaken. The weakening muscles of the hands, arms and shoulders also can cause a variety of issues. For example, a lack of muscle control can cause problems preparing food and using eating utensils. Muscle weakness and fatigue can result in meal times taking much longer.

Many ALS patients struggle to maintain a full and healthy diet, which can lead to excessive weight loss, and further fatigue and weakness. However, there is help available and a variety of techniques to try to combat this. Finding the best strategy to cope with this issue can help maintain the best possible quality of life.

Professional guidance

Once difficulties in eating and drinking start, it may be helpful to consult a professional who can provide guidance. A dietician can help determine the best food to eat in terms of ease, enjoyment, and obtaining the right amount of nourishment.

A speech and language therapist can advise on techniques to make swallowing easier.

An occupational therapist can provide help on where to obtain, and how to use, assistive technologies to make the process easier.

A physiotherapist can give guidance on exercises to maintain muscle control for as long as possible, and help with posture, and a respiratory physiotherapist can provide specific advice on how to avoid coughing, gagging, and choking while eating and drinking.

Assistive technologies

There are a variety of products available that can make eating and drinking easier for ALS patients. It is recommended to discuss a new product with an occupational therapist before starting to use it in order to determine whether it is right for the patient, or if it might do harm.

Assistive technologies include specially designed eating utensils that are easier to grip and use, insulated plates to keep food warmer longer, or an arm support to make it easier to eat. Using thickeners in some foods and liquids can make them easier to swallow. One-way suction straws can help in consuming liquids, as these will stop the fluid from flowing back down the straw.

Surgical procedures

A minor surgical procedure to insert a feeding tube, called percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy (PEG), is one option to ensure that the patient receives enough nutrition. The procedure involves the insertion of a flexible and discreet tube into the abdomen so that liquid food can be passed directly into the stomach.

ALS News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.