Ever heard of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)? If not, you probably have and weren’t aware that it’s most commonly called Lou Gehrig’s disease, after the famous baseball player who was diagnosed with it. ALS is a frightening and confusing disorder that leaves us with many questions about who can get ALS, the causes, and the symptoms.
Here are some of the most common questions about ALS and their answers.
- What is ALS? Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis is a rare disorder that affects the function of nerves and muscles that are responsible for voluntary muscle movement. ALS is a degenerative disease that causes the death of the nerve cells that control our muscles. It leads to progressive weakness that will spread from limb to limb to ultimately involve the entire body.
- Who can get it? Most people develop ALS between 40-70, the older a person is, the higher your risk of developing ALS. However, it can occur as early as your 20s. ALS is 20% more common in men than women.
- Is ALS contagious? No.
- Is it deadly? The average life expectancy after diagnosis is about 2 to 5 years, but many people live longer than 5 years.
- How common is it? Around 5,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with ALS per year. There is roughly a 2/100,000 chance of diagnosis.
- Are there risk factors? There are no sure risk factors. Interestingly, military veterans are twice as likely to develop ALS.
- What are the symptoms? Muscle twitches, muscle cramps, tight or stiff muscles, muscle weakness, slurred and nasal speech, and difficulty chewing or swallowing are all common symptoms seen in many cases of ALS.
- What are the causes? Most cases of ALS are sporadic ALS, meaning the disease seems to occur randomly with no risk factors and no family history of ALS.
- What kind of daily effect can ALS cause? ALS causes the diagnosed person to lose control of their voluntary muscles, which affects everyday movements such as chewing, walking, and talking.
- Is there a cure? Right now there is no cure but there are treatments that can help control symptoms. There are medications, physical therapy, speech therapy, nutritional, and breathing support which may make living with this disease easier and more manageable.
“While we have no cure for ALS, we do have treatments that can make living with ALS better,” says Dr. Michael H. Rivner from the Augusta University Health ALS Clinic. “The Augusta University Health ALS clinic has an active research program designed to help find better treatments for ALS. Our clinic provides the help and support for our patients to live a better life despite having a fatal neuromuscular disease.”