What is amyotrophic lateral sclerosis?
lateral sclerosis, or ALS, is a disease in which certain nerve cells in the
brain and spinal cord slowly die. These nerve cells are called motor neurons,
and they control the muscles that allow you to move the parts of your body. ALS
is also called Lou Gehrig's disease.
People who have ALS gradually
become more disabled. How quickly the disease gets worse is different for
everyone. Some people live with ALS for several years. But over time, ALS makes
it hard to walk, speak, eat, swallow, and breathe. These problems can lead to
injury, illness, and eventually death. In most cases, death will occur within 3 to 5 years after symptoms begin, although some people do live for many years, even decades.
It can be very scary to
learn that you have ALS. Talking with your doctor, getting counseling, or
joining a support group may help you deal with your feelings. Your family
members may also need support or counseling as your disease gets worse.
ALS is rare. Each year in the United States and most of
the world, only 1 to 2 people out of 100,000 get ALS. Men get ALS slightly more
often than women do. ALS can occur at any age, but it most often starts in
middle-aged and older adults.1
What causes ALS?
Doctors don't know what causes
ALS. In about 1 case out of 10, it runs in families.1 This means that 9 times out of 10, a person with ALS
doesn't have a family member with the disease.
What are the symptoms?
The first sign of ALS is
often weakness in one leg, one hand, the face, or the tongue. The weakness
slowly spreads to both arms and both legs. This happens because as the motor
neurons slowly die, they stop sending signals to the muscles. So the muscles
don't have anything telling them to move. Over time, with no signals from the
motor neurons telling the muscles to move, the muscles get weaker and