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Conditions & Symptoms

Diseases & Conditions

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, affects as many as 30,000 Americans at any given time. It is a terminal, neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the spinal cord and brain, affecting the function of nerves and muscles. Motor neurons reach from the brain to the spinal cord, and from the spinal cord to the muscles throughout the body. The progressive degeneration of the motor neurons eventually leads to their death, and when they die, the ability of the brain to initiate and control muscle movement is lost.

ALS most commonly strikes people between the ages of 40 and 70. The life expectancy is approximately two to five years from diagnosis. The cause of ALS is unknown, and there is currently no cure.

ALS does not affect mental function, sight or hearing.

The disease was first discovered in 1869 by French neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot, but it wasn’t until 1939 that Lou Gehrig, the beloved baseball Hall of Famer who died from the condition at age 37, brought national and international attention to the disease.

While ALS has cut short the lives of several notable people, at no point in history has it received the level of attention by the public that it has in 2014 thanks to the “ice bucket challenge” that swept the nation.

For more about ALS, please visit The ALS Association’s website at www.als.org.

Signs and symptoms

An initial symptom of ALS might be weakness in a limb that develops over the course of weeks of months Later, this weakness may develop in another limb. Slurred speech or difficulty swallowing may also be initial symptoms. As ALS progresses, more and more symptoms occur.

Other symptoms may be:

  • Muscle twitching and cramping, especially in the hands and feet
  • Loss of motor control in the hands and arms
  • Impairment in the use of arms and legs
  • Tripping and falling
  • Dropping things
  • Persistent fatigue
  • Uncontrollable laughing or crying
  • Slurred or thick speech and difficulty in projecting the voice

As the disease progresses, patients may experience difficulty breathing and swallowing, or paralysis.

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