What is ALS?
ALS stands for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis and is more commonly known as Lou Gehrig's Disease. ALS is a disease that strikes motor neurons, the nerve cells that control a person's voluntary muscle movements. As ALS progresses, the disease destroys the motor neurons in the brain and in the spinal cord. When this happens chemical messengers and nutrients are unable to reach the related muscle tissue and the muscles are no longer able to function. The inevitable result of this is total paralysis. Victims of ALS lose the ablility to move, speak, chew and swallow. Eventually, respiration is affected and death occurs.

Some of the muscles and nerves not affected by ALS control eye movement, bladder and bowel control, vision, hearing, the sense of touch. A person's intellect is also not affected by the disease. ALS usually strikes people between the ages of 35 and 65. Some people experience weakness in their arms and legs at the onset of the disease, causing the loss of dexterity and the ability to walk. Others, however, first notice difficulty in speaking or swallowing. Muscle spasms, twitching and cramps can also be early signals of ALS. One or more of these symptoms does not necessarily mean a person has ALS. Specific neurological tests must be performed to determine the presence of ALS.

Usually, ALS affects the whole body within five years of the first symptoms, but the disease can take as long as decades to progress. ALS is not contagious and there seems to be a hereditary factor. About 10 percent of people diagnosed with ALS have a history of the disease in their family. More information on ALS can be found at www.mdausa.org on the internet.