Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a life-ending neurological disorder that causes progressive degeneration (breakdown) of nerve cells in the spinal cord and brain. Often called "Lou Gehrig's disease," named after the famous baseball player who passed away from the disease, it’s a devastating illness that affects the way your muscles and nerves function.
ALS doesn’t affect mental functioning or your ability to see or hear, and it’s not contagious. Most people who develop the condition are between 40 and 70 years old, though it can occur at a younger age. ALS affects as many as 30,000 people in the United States, with 5,600 new cases diagnosed each year. Currently, there’s no cure for ALS.
There are three different types of ALS:
- Sporadic ALS: The most common form of ALS in the U.S., representing about 90 to 95 percent of all cases. It occurs randomly, without any known cause, and this form of the disease doesn’t run in families.
- Familial ALS: A rare, inherited form of the disease that accounts for fewer than 10 percent of all cases in the U.S.
- Guamanian ALS: A form of the disease that was observed in Guam and the Trust Territories of the Pacific in the 1950s.
Symptoms of ALS vary from person to person, and can include:
- Lack of coordination or muscle control in your hands, arms, and legs, which may cause you to drop things or trip and fall frequently
- Persistent fatigue
- Slurred or thick speech and difficulty projecting your voice
- Twitching and cramping of muscles, especially in your hands and feet
- Uncontrollable periods of laughing or crying
As the disease progresses, more serious symptoms may include:
- Difficulty breathing or swallowing
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World-class care in an academic health center. As a research and teaching institution, we treat children and adults with proven, leading-edge procedures based on clinical studies performed at the Miller School of Medicine. Our doctors, residents, nurses, and therapists work together to improve health care.
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