What is ALS?
ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) is a progressive neuromuscular disease that attacks motor neurons, which results in the weakening and atrophy of muscles throughout the body until they can no longer be used or controlled.
ALS is also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease and motor neuron disease (MND).
Who gets ALS?
An estimated 20,000 people in the United States have ALS at any one time. It affects slightly more men than women and often begins in the mid-to-late 50s, though it can start at any age. ALS affects a higher percentage of white people of European descent.
Studies have shown that military veterans—particularly those who served in the Gulf War—are up to twice as likely to be diagnosed with ALS as the general population. As a result, the VA has designated ALS as a service-connected disease, which means that veterans with ALS are entitled to numerous benefits.
What are the early symptoms of ALS?
Initial ALS symptoms vary from person to person. Weakness in a muscle without any pain is a common early sign. ALS often begins in one limb, like in a hand or a foot. Daily activities like walking or buttoning a shirt may gradually become more difficult. For some, ALS begins by affecting the muscles that control speaking and swallowing. Learn more about ALS symptoms.
How is ALS diagnosed?
Diagnosing ALS is not always straightforward. There is no one definitive diagnostic test. It is important to be proactive and meet with a neurologist who specializes in ALS to get an accurate diagnosis. The neurologist will assess your symptoms and run a series of tests in order to rule out other possibilities and confirm an ALS diagnosis.
How long can people live with ALS?
ALS progresses differently for each person. Average life expectancy is roughly 3-5 years, though 10% of people with ALS will live ten years or longer. There are also different types of ALS, which can affect the prognosis.
Is there a cure for ALS?
No. However, researchers continue to make progress. There are two FDA-approved drugs that may extend life by a few months. Attending an ALS clinic may also extend life and improve quality of life. Most ALS patients—even those under 65 years of age—qualify for Medicare, which covers the majority of medical services and equipment.
What causes ALS?
Up to 10% of ALS cases are familial, which means the disease runs in the family and is inherited. For the other 90% or more of cases, the cause is unknown. Scientists are conducting clinical trials and making advances on theories about the risk factors and causes of ALS.
Does ALS affect the mind?
ALS is mostly known for affecting the body, though for some it can also affect the mind. Up to 50% of people diagnosed with ALS will experience some form of cognitive, behavioral, or emotional impairment. For most, this will mean mild to moderate changes that might only be detected by close family members. Up to 15% of people living with ALS, however, will manifest the more noticeable symptoms associated with frontotemporal dementia.