What is amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig's disease?

ALS, which is short for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, is a degenerative disease. It affects muscle nerve cells.

Baseball great Lou Gehrig suffered from the disease and it came to be known colloquially as Lou Gehrig's disease after he died on June 2, 1941.

The reason the baseball legend had become so weak was not because his muscles were not working properly but because his body stopped sending the signals to make his muscles move.

ALS attacks the nerve cells that control voluntary movements, such as walking or raising your arm. There are two types of motor neurons. One type, called upper motor neurons, send messages from the brain to the spinal cord. The other type, called lower motor neurons, carry messages from the spinal cord to the muscles instructing them to move.

ALS is a neurodegenerative condition, affecting the motor nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, in which patients develop progressive atrophy and weakness of their limb muscles, difficulty breathing secondary to respiratory muscle weakness, and trouble with chewing and swallowing. The average life expectancy for a patient with ALS is approximately four and a half years and patients often succumb to respiratory infections or complications related to imobility (e.g. blood clots and blood infection from pneumonia or skin ulcers). While there are many ongoing studies attempting to determine the causes and treatment of ALS, presently there is no effective treatment for ALS. Riluzole is the only FDA approved medication and offers very marginal benefit.
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig's disease, is a progressive, degenerative disease of the voluntary motor system. Over time the muscles that control functions such as movement, speech, swallowing, and breathing may become progressively weaker and eventually these muscles become paralyzed. There is currently no cure for the disease.
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a disease affecting the body's motor neurons. As the neurons begin to die, controlling the body's muscles becomes increasingly difficult. In later stages, people with ALS lose control over basic bodily functions like speaking and eating. The disease usually occurs in people older than 50 and is always eventually fatal. ALS is also commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease.
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), sometimes called Lou Gehrig's  disease, is a rapidly progressive, invariably fatal neurological disease that attacks the nerve cells (neurons) responsible for controlling voluntary muscles. The disease belongs to a group of disorders known as motor neuron diseases, which are characterized by the gradual degeneration and death of motor neurons.

Motor neurons are nerve cells located in the brain, brainstem, and spinal cord. They serve as controlling units and vital communication links between the nervous system and the voluntary muscles of the body. Messages from motor neurons in the brain (called upper motor neurons) are transmitted to motor neurons in the spinal cord (called lower motor neurons) and then to the particular muscles. In ALS, the upper and the lower motor neurons degenerate or die, ceasing to send messages to the muscles. Unable to function, the muscles gradually weaken, waste away (atrophy), and twitch (fasciculation). Eventually, the ability of the brain to start and control voluntary movement is lost.

ALS causes weakness with a wide range of disabilities. Eventually, all muscles under voluntary control are affected, and patients lose their strength and the ability to move their arms, legs, and body. When muscles in the diaphragm and chest wall fail, patients lose the ability to breathe without ventilatory support. Most people with ALS die from respiratory failure, usually within three to five years from the onset of symptoms. However, about ten percent of ALS patients survive for 10 or more years.

Although the disease does not impair a person's mind or intelligence, recent studies suggest that some ALS patients may have alterations in cognitive functions, such as depression and problems with decision-making and memory.

ALS does not affect a person's ability to see, smell, taste, hear, or recognize touch. Patients usually maintain control of eye muscles, bladder, and bowel functions. However, in the late stages of the  disease, most patients need help getting to and from the bathroom.

This answer is based on source information from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

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