What is ALS?

ALS definition

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a neurological disorder, which affects nerve cells in the spinal cord (lower motor neurons) and brain (upper motor neurons), progressively degenerating them further. When the motor neurons can no longer send signals to the muscles, the muscles begin to deteriorate (atrophy), progressing muscle weakness. It is also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease (named for the famous American baseball player whom had the disease). Currently, there is no cure for this non-contagious disease. ALS does not affect the senses, nor mental cognition.

According to the U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, most people with ALS die from respiratory failure, usually within 3 to 5 years from the onset of symptoms. But, approximately 10 percent of ALS patients will endure for 10 or more years.

There are 2 main classifications of ALS:

  1. Sporadic: This is the most common type of ALS, comprising 90-95% of persons. There is no known cause, seemingly random with no genetic family history of occurrence.
  2. Familial: There is a small amount of persons which are thought to have inherited ALS.

ALS is most typically seen in older persons, between the ages of 40 to 70 years old, although it can occur in younger persons. It occurs throughout the world with no racial, ethnic or socioeconomic boundaries. More than 12,000 people in the U.S. have a definite diagnosis of ALS, according to a report on data from the National ALS Registry. ALS is five times more likely to occur than Huntington’s disease and about equal to multiple sclerosis.