ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease)


This is a disease of the nervous system. The proper name is "amyotrophic lateral sclerosis," but most people know it as "ALS" or "Lou Gehrig's disease." With it, your nerve cells begin to break down and die. ALS is a progressive disease. That means its effects get worse over time. There is no cure. Eventually, ALS results in death.


We don't usually know what causes ALS. Sometimes, it's inherited. But in most cases, we can't find the cause. It may be related to a mutation in your genes. It may be linked to a problem with chemicals or proteins that interact with your nerve cells. It may be caused by a problem with your immune system. Or, it may be triggered by a toxin in your environment.


When ALS begins, you may first notice weakness in your hands, feet and legs. You may trip and fall, and you may feel clumsy. You may have muscle cramps. As it progresses, it gets harder for you to do your normal activities. You have trouble holding yourself up. Your speech becomes slurred. It can be hard for you to chew and swallow, and to breathe. As more nerve cells die, more and more of your body is affected. In some people, ALS causes a form of dementia.


Because there is no cure, treatment for ALS is focused on slowing its advance and helping you be comfortable. Medications can help many of your symptoms. You can use assistive devices to help you breathe. Physical and occupational therapy can keep you as independent as possible for as long as possible. And counseling can be very helpful for you and your family. Your healthcare provider will create a plan that's right for you.