Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, named after the Hall of Fame Yankee baseball player who was diagnosed with ALS in 1930. ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, is a rapidly progressing, debilitating, neurological disease that attacks nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, resulting in muscle weakness and atrophy. As a result, the muscles begin to waste away causing paralysis.
A-myo-trophic comes from the Greek language. "A" means no. "Myo" refers to muscle, and "Trophic" means nourishment – "No muscle nourishment." When a muscle has no nourishment, it "atrophies" or wastes away. "Lateral" identifies the areas in a person's spinal cord where portions of the nerve cells that signal and control the muscles are located. As this area degenerates, it leads to scarring or hardening ("sclerosis") in the region.
What is ALS?
What causes ALS?
There is currently no known cause for the disease.
Symptoms of ALS?
Early signs of ALS can vary from person to person and some symptoms are so slight that they are often overlooked. These symptoms include, but not limited to;
• Weakness in the arms or legs
• Muscle cramping or twitching
• Slurred speech and difficulty swallowing
• Foot drop
Other symptoms can include muscle weakness, stiffness and cramps, tripping, dropping things, abnormal fatigue of the arms and/or legs, twitches, slurred speech and uncontrollable periods of laughing or crying. Later signs include paralysis of the arms, legs, and trunk muscles, as well as the muscles that control vital functions such as speech, swallowing, and breathing. ALS frequently affects the hands, feet and limbs first. ALS can also start with the tongue, known as Bulbar Onset, initially affecting speech, swallowing and breathing, gradually moving to the arms, legs, hands and feet.
Is ALS a rare disease?
ALS is more common than you might expect. About 5,600 people in the US are diagnosed with ALS each year and it is estimated that as many as 30 ,000 Americans have the disease at any given time. Someone is diagnosed with ALS every 90 minutes, and every 90 minutes, someone dies from ALS.
Who gets ALS?
ALS does not discriminate, it can happen to anyone. In fact, studies show that 90-95% of ALS cases are Sporadic, meaning it occurs at random. 5-10% of cases are Familial. It most commonly occurs in men and women between the ages of 35 and 70, but can also affect people in their 20’s and 30’s, but people of any age, race, ethnicity, location or income group can get ALS. The Department of Veterans Affairs has designated ALS as a service connected disability, as it was determined that Military Veterans are also twice as likely to be diagnosed with ALS but there are no definitive reasons why.
Does ALS effect a person's mind?
No. The vast majority of ALS patients remain sharp despite the progressive deterioration of their bodies. There are a few ALS patients that report changes to the temporal lobe,, but it is not common.
How long do people with ALS survive?
The average life expectancy of an ALS patient is two to five years. Some patients experience symptoms long before their diagnosis. There are rare instances where ALS patients live for decades, like Stephen hawking, yet others live only months after doagnosis.
How is ALS treated?
There are currently no treatments available for ALS, however, there are ALS clinics across the country that provide coordinated programs of rehabilitation techniques and psychological support. Each of these clinics/ centers is comprised of specialists that include; neurologists, nurses, respiratory therapists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech pathologists, social workers and a registered dietician.