ALS afflicts about 30,000 in the United States; cure elusive
ADDISON COUNTY — Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that causes muscle weakness, paralysis, and ultimately, respiratory failure.
According to sources that include alifestoryfoundation.org and mayoclinic.com, ALS attacks certain cells in the brain and the spinal cord needed to keep muscles moving.
Currently, about 30,000 U.S. residents have been diagnosed with ALS, which has no known cause or cure. Military veterans are twice as likely statistically to be diagnosed as members of the general population, regardless of whether they served in the U.S. or abroad. ALS is 20 percent more common in men than women, the average age of diagnosis is 55, and ALS patients typically live two to five years after their first signs of the disease.
The disease’s most famous victim, New York Yankee baseball player Lou Gehrig, contracted ALS at the age of 36 and died two years later.
Early signs and symptoms of ALS include:
• Difficulty walking or doing normal daily activities.
• Weakness in legs, feet or ankles.
• Hand weakness or clumsiness.
• Slurred speech or trouble swallowing.
• Muscle cramps and twitching in arms, shoulders and tongue.
• Difficulty holding the head up and/or maintaining good posture.
The disease frequently begins in the hands, feet or limbs, and then spreads to other parts of the body. As the disease advances, muscles become progressively weaker. This weakness eventually affects chewing, swallowing, speaking and breathing.
Ultimately, ALS can lead to inability to move any part of the body or to speak or communicate with anything but the eyes and to reliance on a feeding tube for nutrition.
The senses — hearing, sight, smell, taste and touch — are not affected by ALS. In most cases, people with ALS do not experience difficulties in bowel, bladder or sexual function.
The Mayo Clinic notes, in particular, ALS does not affect “your thinking ability. It’s possible to remain actively involved with your family and friends.”
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