What Is ALS?
In 1869 Jean-Marie Charcot first named this disease Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) but it did not receive worldwide attention until baseball player Lou Gehrig was diagnosed in 1939.
ALS is a progressive neuro-muscular disease that affects nerve cells. Motor neurons reach from the brain into the spinal cord and from the spinal cord out into muscles throughout the body. As the nerves degenerate the ability of the brain to control muscle movement is lost and will eventually lead to paralysis.
Early in the process people will notice simple muscle defects like foot drop that causes tripping or difficulty holding smaller items in the hand that progresses to larger muscles throughout the body. Some people first notice that their speech is weaker or seems to come and go. Unfortunately when the main muscles of respiration are affected the ALS sufferer will soon die.
The disease presents and progresses differently in each person.
From Steven Hawking who has survived for nearly 50 years
to the person who first noticed that their respiratory effort was inexplicably harder each day and passed just a few months after diagnosis.
Diagnosis is a process of ruling out other diseases and therefore can take some time so that the average person with ALS has between 2-5 years of life from the point of diagnosis.
There is no cure although promising research is on-going and the ice bucket challenge has raised money for research and also brought the disease into the public eye allowing the continued raising of much needed funding for research.