In the U.S., amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, is often called "Lou Gehrig's disease" after the famed baseball player whose struggle with this disease and death in 1941 brought it national attention.
ALS is an incurable, progressive degenerative neurological disorder. For reasons that are not understood, the nerve cells of the brain and spinal cord that control voluntary muscle movement gradually deteriorate. As a result, muscles waste away, leading to paralysis and death, usually in two to five years.
The only nerve cells affected are the lower motor neurons, which control a wide range of things like movement of your limbs, swallowing, and even some aspects of breathing. But the senses and thinking processes remain normal. Pain is rare in this disease at any stage.
The disease is relatively rare: About 5,000 new cases are diagnosed in the U.S. each year. It almost always strikes after the age of 40, and it afflicts more men than women.
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Archived: March 20, 2014
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