Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)

In Blog, Women's Health Topics by Dr. Gary Goldman

Have you taken the ALS ice bucket challenge yet? While the origin of this successful fund-raising campaign is shrouded in some degree of controversy, it is a reminder of the plight of charities. According to philanthropy.com, charitable giving dropped by more than 13%, or $30-billion dollars, between 2007 and 2009 during the recent recession. Sadly, as the economy has recovered, donations have not.

Whether you choose to share your icy splash on social media, or just send a donation, let this current campaign remind us all to donate to the charity of our choice. There’s no better feeling than giving, and the research dollars produced can help our friends, our families, and our communities.

How many of you know what ALS actually is? Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis is a degenerative disease of the motor neurons. These neurons relay signals from the brain to the muscles; as the neurons die, the brain can no longer signal the muscles, and the muscles cannot properly function.

According to Wikipedia, “People of all races and ethnic backgrounds are affected. One or two out of 100,000 people develop ALS each year. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis affects approximately 30,000 Americans. ALS cases are estimated at 1.2–4.0 per 100,000 individuals in Caucasian populations with a lower rate in other ethnic populations. ALS most commonly strikes people between 40 and 60 years of age, but younger and older people can also develop the disease. Men are affected slightly more often than women.”

The ALS Association states: “Early symptoms of ALS often include increasing muscle weakness, especially involving the arms and legs, speech, swallowing or breathing. When muscles no longer receive the messages from the motor neurons that they require to function, the muscles begin to atrophy (become smaller). Limbs begin to look “thinner” as muscle tissue atrophies.”

Of course, as the disease progresses there can be virtual paralysis, difficulty chewing and eating, difficulty breathing, end eventually death, typically from respiratory failure.

The cause of ALS is being aggressively researched. Genetics likely play a part in some cases, but the majority of patients have no significant family history. Trauma and diet may also play a role.

Therapy is predominantly palliative and includes occupational and respiratory therapy, nutrition and some newer medications which appear to slow the progression of disease. Lou Gehrig made this disease famous, lending his name to it in the mass media. Currently, Stephen Hawkings of physics fame is another public figure stricken with this disease. Read more here:

http://www.alsa.org/