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

Dr. Jeanne Morrison, PhD
Family Practitioner
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.

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.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.