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Brain & Nervous System Health Center

Married ... With Lou Gehrig's Disease

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"The risk of ALS is one in one million, and there are 20 million [married] couples in France," he says. "However, we have found nine cases in nine years." The researchers believe this happens because of the environment the couples share, rather than because of genetic factors. Just to be safe, however, Camu and his co-investigators are now studying the children of these nine couples to determine if there is also a genetic factor they can pinpoint.

"It is always interesting to speculate what [results like these] might mean," says Robin L. Brey, MD, associate professor of neurology at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio.

According to Brey, who reviewed the study for WebMD, some diseases are partial to certain ethnic groups, "so you always wonder if there's a genetic aspect in terms of the husband and wife being [distantly] related," she says. The findings may also "suggest a possible infectious process, or environmental exposure when they were children," she says -- with the effects being postponed for many years.

"This study has important implications for patients and for care," says Brey. The finding of an environmental toxin would be "a major breakthrough, because it [could ultimately] allow us to prevent the [nerve] damage that causes ALS."

Vital Information:

  • French researchers report they have found nine married couples where both husband and wife have a rare nerve disorder called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease).
  • ALS causes the nerves serving the muscles to continue to break down. At first, it causes twitching and slurred speech Within five years, patients usually develop fatal breathing problems when the disease involves those nerves.
  • In the new report, the couples were married an average of 20 years before one spouse was struck with ALS. The other partner got the disease an average of eight years later, but doctors don't know why. Other nerve diseases have been shown to affect both spouses, but this is the first time it has been seen with ALS.
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