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Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that destroys motor neurons, which are among the largest of all nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. Motor neurons are responsible for sending messages to muscles throughout the body. When the motor neurons can no longer send impulses to the muscles due to ALS, the muscles begin to waste away (atrophy), causing increased muscle weakness. Motor neuron (or nerve cell) death makes it impossible for the brain to control muscles or signal them to move. Eventually, most muscles are affected, including those of the legs and feet, arms and hands, and those that control swallowing and breathing.
Facts You Should Know
- The onset of ALS is insidious with muscle weakness or stiffness as early symptoms. Progression of weakness, wasting and paralysis of the muscles of the limbs and trunk as well as those that control vital functions such as speech, swallowing and later breathing generally follows.
- ALS is not contagious.
- It is estimated that ALS is responsible for nearly two deaths per hundred thousand population annually.
- Approximately 5,600 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with ALS each year. The incidence of ALS is two per 100,000 people, and it is estimated that as many as 30,000 Americans may have the disease at any given time.
- Although the life expectancy of an ALS patient averages about two to five years from the time of diagnosis, this disease is variable and many people live with quality for five years and more. More than half of all patients live more than three years after diagnosis.
- The financial cost to families of persons with ALS is exceedingly high. It is estimated that in the advanced stages, care can cost an average of $200,000 a year. Patients’ and relatives’ entire savings are quickly depleted because of the extraordinary cost involved in the care of ALS patients.
- Someone you know or love will die from ALS.