Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), sometimes called Lou Gehrig's disease, is a relentlessly progressive, invariably fatal neurological disease. It attacks the motor nerve cells within the brain and spinal cord, neurons responsible for controlling voluntary muscles (muscle action we are able to control), such as those in the arms, legs, head and neck. As the motor neurons die and can no longer send impulses to the muscles, the muscles begin to waste away (atrophy), causing increased muscle weakness. Approximately 50% of those diagnosed with this disease die within two to three years, and the vast majority may not survive beyond five years. Most end up in hospice. Individuals are often struck with this disease in the prime of their life, creating a heavy financial and social burden exceeding a $1.4 mil. per patient, that is borne by insurance companies and the patient’s family. This does not include the loss of income and livelihood. There is currently no cure for this condition and there are only two FDA approved drugs to date. Rilutek™, approved 22 years ago, has been shown to prolong life by 2-3 months, while the recently approved Radicava™ claims to slow down the functional impairment of the disease but does not prolong life.
The cause of ALS is still a mystery, though many promising theories are being pursued in search of a viable treatment and cure.
The following are the most common symptoms of ALS.
- weakness and fatigue
- twitching, cramping and wasting away of muscles
- loss of motor control in the hands and arms
- impaired use of the arms and legs
- tripping and falling
- dropping items, trouble with dexterity
- difficulty swallowing, breathing and shortness of breath
- slurred or thick speech and difficulty in projecting the voice
- uncontrollable periods of laughing or crying
As the disease progresses, symptoms may include:
- inability to walk, move, swallow, breathe without assistance
- ultimately succumbing to respiratory failure, hospice support and death
typical age of ALS onset
New cases PER YEAR (USA)
NEW CASES PER YEAR GLOBALLY
source: ALS Association