Lou Gehrig’s disease; ALS; Upper and lower motor neuron disease; Motor neuron disease
Definition of Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, is a disease of the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that control voluntary muscle movement.
Causes, incidence, and risk factors
In about 10% of cases, ALS is caused by a genetic defect. In the remaining cases, the cause is unknown.
Symptoms usually do not develop until after age 50, but they can start in younger people. Persons with ALS have a loss of muscle strength and coordination that eventually gets worse and makes it impossible to do routine tasks such as going up steps, getting out of a chair, or swallowing.
Signs and tests
The health care provider will take a medical history, which includes strength and endurance.
There is no known cure for ALS. The first drug treatment for the disease is a medicine called riluzole. Riluzole slows the disease progression and prolongs life.
Over time, people with ALS progressively lose the ability to function and care for themselves. Death often occurs within 3 – 5 years of diagnosis. About 25% of patients survive for more than 5 years after diagnosis.
David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine; and Daniel B. Hoch, PhD, MD, Assistant Professor of Neurology, Harvard Medical School, Department of Neurology, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc. – 8/27/2010