Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis is a deadly disease of the nervous system. Also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. One in 50,000 people will be affected in any one year. The average age for diagnosis of ALS is between 30 and 70, although there have been cases of teenagers contracting it. The average life span after diagnosis is three to 10 years, although 20 percent of those affected will outlive their prognosis by a number of years. ALS affects more men than women. Approximately 60 percent of those affected are male, 40 percent are female.

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Little is known about the exact cause of ALS at this time, although it can be traced back to chromosome 21. The defect is inherited as an autosmal dominant trait. Other theories such as metal poisons, viral infections, even aging have been considered.  ALS attacks the motor neurons in your nervous system that control your muscles. Your motor neurons slowly deteriorate, causing your muscles to not receive information from your brain. Your muscles then become useless and begin to deteriorate.

Symptoms of ALS include:

Tripping and falling

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Loss of motor control in hands and arms

Difficulty speaking and swallowing or difficulty breathing

Persistent fatigue

Twitching and cramping, sometimes severely

As ALS progresses, all voluntary muscles become useless. The patient cannot eat, breathe or communicate with others. Total life support may be the only thing keeping them alive. ALS can lead to total paralysis. Although there is no cure, medications such as siazepam can assist with controlling spasms and muscle cramps and saliva. Siazepam can also help control muscle twitching. Physical therapy is important for patients with ALS to maintain flexibility in joints and to prevent contractures, or fixations of muscles.

Diagnosis of ALS is difficult, since there is no clinical or laboratory test to identify it. Diagnosis is done through careful examination of a patient’s history, neurological testing, and electromyograms. Researchers have been studying whether a defective metabolism of glutamate, an amino acid, is detrimental to the nerve cells in the muscles of ALS patients. Scientists are trying to determine whether they can prevent the toxic effects of glutamate. Other scientists are studying Threostat, which may increase the amino acid called glycine, which might neutralize glutamate found in ALS patients.

ALS and Muscular Dystrophy are commonly confused due to their similar symptoms. The main difference is that ALS affects the nervous system, whereas Muscular dystrophy affects the muscle.


“ALS.” Internet site. Post date: June 1995.

Hopkins, Harold. “Amyotrophic Latral Sclerosis.”  CD-ROM: Grolier Encyclopedia. 1995 ed.

Williams, D. B. “Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis.”  Mayo Clinic Proc. Jan. 1991. Found on CD-ROM: The Family Doctor.

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