Lou Gehrig's disease is a common name for the debilitating neurodegenerative disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is the disease that forced Lou Gehrig to leave baseball (in 1939), and took his life a few years later (in 1941). Here are a few points that will help you to better understand Lou Gehrig's disease:
- Both upper motor neurons and lower motor neurons are affected by Lou Gehrig's disease. Upper motor neurons are the neurons in the brain that send messages from the brain to the spinal cord and lower motor neurons are the neurons in the spinal cord that send messages to the muscles.
- Lou Gehrig's disease is a progressive disease. In Lou Gehrig's disease, the nerve cells of the central nervous system that control voluntary muscle movement gradually deteriorate. Voluntary muscles throughout the body gradually weaken and atrophy. Finally, the brain is unable to control the movement of voluntary muscles at all.
- Early symptoms of Lou Gehrig's disease can be difficult to diagnose. These include cramping of muscles and muscle tics, loss of strength and control in the muscles of the extremities, fatigue, tripping and falling, being unable to hold an object in one's hands and/or difficulty swallowing, speaking or breathing. There is no one test that can provide a diagnosis of Lou Gehrig's disease. However, the presence of both upper and lower motor neuron symptoms are strong indicators of the disease.
- Sufferers of Lou Gehrig's disease do not lose mental functioning. The intelligence, personality, and memory of people with Lou Gehrig's disease remain intact. The disease is particularly cruel in this regard as sufferers are well-aware of their loss of functioning.
- Sclerosis is a result of scarring of the spinal cord. As the spinal cord (where the nerve cells that control the voluntary muscles are located) deteriorates, the spinal cord becomes scarred (a process also known as sclerosis).
- Men suffer from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis slightly more frequently than women though both genders, as well as all races, are affected. The disease most often afflicts people between the ages of 40-60, although it also affects people outside of that age bracket. The cause of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis remains unknown although research into its cause continues on many different levels.
No cure has been found for ALS. There is one drug approved for treatment called Riluzole, which increases the rate of survival by several months. The levels of Riluzole in the blood need to be monitored closely so that liver damage does not occur. The progression of the disease varies among sufferers. The average survival time after diagnosis with the disease is from three to five years, although there are some people that live significantly longer. Occasionally, ALS has been known to stop progressing on its own.
Other treatments do exist to ease the attendant symptoms of Lou Gehrig's disease. Due to the incredibly challenging physical symptoms of this disease, a range of health care professionals need to assess the best overall treatment plan. Likely options include physical, occupational and speech therapists, social workers, and hospice and home care nurses. Equipment such as ventilators, wheelchairs, voice-amplifying devices or speech generators will eventually become necessary.
There is still much to learn about Lou Gehrig's disease. If you are interested in donating to research on Lou Gehrig's disease, you can do so at the ALS Therapy Development Foundation.