What is ALS?
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a rare, progressive, neurological condition in which the long motor neurons in the brain cortex and spinal cord deteriorate and die. The associated voluntary muscles waste away, causing symptoms such as muscle spasms, cramps, rigidity, pain, inflammation, and paralysis.
ALS affects an estimated 30,000 Americans at any given time. It often appears suddenly in otherwise healthy adults between the ages of 40 and 70.
There is no cure. There is no treatment to reverse the damage to motor neurons. The available treatments strive to alleviate symptoms, improve quality of life, and prolong survival.
Medications that protect the brain and remove free radicals from the body can help to manage symptoms and possibly slow the progress of the disease. Nutrition, cognitive behavioral therapy, and therapy for breathing, speech, and movement can improve quality of life.
Scientists do not know what causes ALS. It could be a combination of genetic factors and environmental triggers, such as exposure to heavy metals, solvents, or agricultural chemicals. No association has been found between ALS and injury, infection, diet, or physical activity. Only 5 to 10 percent of ALS cases are due to inherited factors, most commonly a gene called SOD1.