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ALS Facts

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a rapidly progressive, invariably fatal neurological disease that attacks the nerve cells (neurons) responsible for controlling voluntary muscles.

As of today, the cause of ALS is unknown. There are no known preventative measures, and there is no recognized cure.

  • About 30,000 people nationwide suffer from ALS.
  • ALS strikes nearly 5,600 people in the U.S. each year.
  • Symptoms can include twitching, cramping, or stiffness of muscles – muscle weakness affecting an arm or a leg, slurred and nasal speech, or difficulty chewing or swallowing.
  • The disease most commonly strikes people between 40-60 years of age.
  • Young adults and older individuals can also develop the disease.
  • Average lifespan after diagnosis is two to five years.
  • The disease crosses all ethnic, racial and socioeconomic boundaries.
  • Men are affected more often than women.
  • Eventually all muscles under voluntary control are affected.
  • Because ALS affects only motor neurons, the disease does not impair a person’s mind, personality, intelligence, or memory.
  • Patients usually maintain control of eye muscles and bladder and bowel functions.
  • Patients lose their strength and ability to move their arms, legs, body, and when the muscles in the diaphragm and chest wall fail, the patients lose the ability to breathe without ventilatory support.
  • Beginning symptoms show in one of three areas: lower extremity, bulbar area, or upper extremity.
  • No one test can provide a definitive diagnosis for ALS, although the presence of upper and lower motor neuron signs in a single limb is strongly suggestive.
  • The diagnosis of ALS is primarily based on the symptoms and signs the physician observes in a patient and a series of tests to rule out other diseases.