What Is ALS?
ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), also referred to in Europe as Motor Neuron Disease (MND), is a devastating condition where the nerves which control the skeletal muscles (hands, feet, arms, legs, etc.) die off. Commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, it is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that attacks motor neurons in the brain (upper motor neurons) and spinal cord (lower motor neurons) and affects muscle function.
The motor neurons control the movement of various voluntary muscles including the diaphragm. Associated with the loss of the ability of motor neurons to function in ALS, the various muscles cells waste away (atrophy), resulting in increased muscle weakness. Ultimately, accumulated loss of motor neurons makes it impossible for voluntary control of normal muscle function. After sufficient loss of neurons to the diaphragm muscle, the person loses the ability to draw breath and eventually requires mechanical ventilation to sustain life.
Symptoms of ALS can include twitching and cramping of muscles (called fasciculation), stiffness in muscles (spasticity), increasing loss of motor control in hands and arms and legs, weakness and fatigue, slurred or thick speech and difficulty breathing or swallowing.
In most cases, ALS patients (Person(s) with ALS or PALS) do not typically experience significantly impaired sensory neural functioning, intellectual reasoning, vision or hearing. This leaves a PALS with an active and alert mind trapped in an inert body.
How Many People Get ALS?
The yearly incidence of ALS is approximately 2 in 100,000, while the lifetime chance of developing ALS is approximately 1 in 300. The average time for survival from diagnosis is 2-5 years the number of people living with ALS in the United States at any one point in time is estimated at around 20,000. That means even though the incidence of ALS is about the same as Multiple Sclerosis (MS), because the survival time is so low, there are far fewer living PALS than MS patients at any one time.