Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) is a disease which affects the muscles. “Amyotrophic” refers to the thinning and wasting of muscles — often referred to as atrophy. “Lateral” refers to the location of the deteriorating nerve cells in the spinal cord. These nerve cells connect the cerebral motor cortex and upper motor neurons with other nerve cells that directly transmit impulses to the skeletal muscles. “Sclerosis” refers to a scar that results in the spinal cord when the nerve cell degenerates or dies. Because ALS affects the spinal cord and muscles, many patients are left totally paralyzed by the disease.
Ninety percent of cases occur sporadically, and men are five times more likely of being diagnosed than women. Most cases are diagnosed around the age of about 55; however, ALS has been known to strike men and women as early as their late 20s or early 30s. Approximately 30 to 40 thousand people in North America suffer from ALS, and only 50 percent survive for more than four years after their initial diagnosis. However, 10 to 25 percent of patients will survive 10 to 15 years past their initial diagnosis.
To date, there is no known cure for ALS, which causes muscle twitching, progressive weakness and muscle atrophy. Eventually, the body simply “wears out,” body mass decreases and respiratory failure occurs. Those living with ALS who receive care are simply trying to make each day a little better.