ALS INFORMATION

ALS was found in 1869 by French neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot, but it wasn’t until 1939 that Lou Gehrig brought national and international attention to the disease, ending the career of one of the most beloved baseball players of all time, the disease is still most closely associated with his name. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord.

Motor neurons reach from the brain to the spinal cord and from the spinal cord to the muscles throughout the body. The progressive degeneration of the motor neurons in ALS eventually leads to their death. When the motor neurons die, the ability of the brain to initiate and control muscle movement is lost. With voluntary muscle action progressively affected, patients in the later stages of the disease may become paralyzed.

Motor neurons reach from the brain to the spinal cord and from the spinal cord to the muscles throughout the body. The progressive degeneration of motor neurons in ALS eventually leads to their demise. When the motor neurons die, the ability of the brain to initiate and control muscle movement is lost. With voluntary muscle action progressively affected, people may lose the ability to speak, eat, move, and breathe. The motor nerves that are affected when you have ALS are the motor neurons that provide voluntary movements and muscle control. Examples of voluntary movements are making an effort to reach for a smartphone or step off a curb. These actions are controlled by the muscles in the arms and legs.

There are two types of ALS, sporadic and familial. Sporadic, which is the most common form of the disease in the U.S., accounts for 90 to 95% of all cases. It may affect anyone, anywhere. Familial ALS (FALS) accounts for 5 to 10% of all cases in the U.S. Familial ALS means the disease is inherited. In those families, there is a 50% chance each offspring will inherit the gene mutation and may develop the disease.

ALS usually strikes people between the ages of 40 and 70, and it is estimated there are at least 16,000 Americans who have the disease at any given time (although the number fluctuates). For unknown reasons, military veterans are approximately twice as likely to be diagnosed with the disease as the general public.

Notable individuals who have been diagnosed with ALS include baseball great Lou Gehrig; theoretical physicist, cosmologist, and author Stephen Hawking; Hall of Fame pitcher, Jim "Catfish" Hunter. Toto bassist Mike Porcaro; Senator Jabob Javits; actor David Niven; "Sesame Street" creator Jon Stone; boxing champion Ezzard Charles; NBA Hall of Famer George Yardley. Golf caddie, Bruce Edwards, musician Lead Belly (Huddie Ledbetter), photographer Eddie Adams; entertain Dennis Day, jazz musician Charles Mingus, former vice president of the United States Henry A. Wallace; U.S. Army General Maxwell Taylor, and NFL football players Steve Gleason, O.J. Brigance, and Tim Shaw.