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Who is most at risk for ALS?

Dr. Jeanne Morrison, PhD
Family Practitioner

As many as 20,000 Americans have ALS, and an estimated 5,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with the disease each year. ALS is one of the most common neuromuscular diseases worldwide, and people of all races and ethnic backgrounds are affected by it. ALS most commonly strikes people between 40 and 60 years of age, but younger and older people also can develop the disease. Men are affected more often than women.

In 90 to 95 percent of the cases, ALS occurs at random, with no clearly associated risk factors. Patients do not have a family history of the disease, and their family members are not considered to be at an increased risk for developing ALS.

About five to ten percent of all ALS cases are inherited. The familial form of ALS usually results from a pattern of inheritance that requires only one parent to carry the gene responsible for the disease. About 20 percent of all familial cases result from a specific genetic defect that leads to a mutation in the enzyme superoxide dismutase 1 (SOD1). Research on this mutation is providing clues about the possible causes of motor neuron death in ALS. However, not all familial ALS cases are due to the SOD1 mutation; therefore, other unidentified genetic causes clearly exist.

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

ALS is most common among Caucasian males, and it typically begins when people are between 40 and 60 years old. People with ALS have too much glutamate in their spinal fluid and blood. This chemical usually helps nerve cells in the spinal cord and the brain to communicate, but when there is too much of it can damage motor neurons.

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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.