What is ALS disease?
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a rare neurological disease that primarily affects the nerve cells (neurons) responsible for controlling voluntary muscle movement (those muscles we choose to move). Voluntary muscles produce movements like chewing, walking, and talking. The disease is progressive, meaning the symptoms get worse over time. Currently, there is no cure for ALS and no effective treatment to halt or reverse the progression of the disease.
ALS belongs to a wider group of disorders known as motor neuron diseases, which are caused by gradual deterioration (degeneration) and death of motor neurons. Motor neurons are nerve cells that extend from the brain to the spinal cord and to muscles throughout the body. As motor neurons degenerate, they stop sending messages to the muscles and the muscles gradually weaken, start to twitch, and waste away (atrophy). Eventually, the brain loses its ability to initiate and control voluntary movements.
Early symptoms of ALS usually include muscle weakness or stiffness. Gradually all voluntary muscles are affected, and individuals lose their strength and the ability to speak, eat, move, and even breathe. Most people with ALS die from respiratory failure, usually within 3 to 5 years from when the symptoms first appear. However, about 10 percent of people with ALS survive for 10 or more years.
ALS was once commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, following the retirement of the famous ballplayer in the 1940s due to the disease.