10 Things You Should Know About Lou Gehrig’s Disease

By at April 15, 2011 | 1:00 pm | Print

10 Things You Should Know About Lou Gehrig’s Disease

Ten Things You Should Know About Lou Gehrig’s Disease
By Emily Truesdell

1.  Lou Gehrig’s disease is actually a common nickname for the real title of the disease: amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS.  It was given the name Lou Gehrig’s disease after the famous baseball player died from the disease.  Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis can be briefly explained by taking apart the root meanings of the Greek words that make up the title.  “A” means nothing, “myo” means muscle”, and “trophy” refers to the malnourishment of the muscles.  So basically, ALS deteriorates and kills motor neurons that go from the brain to the spinal cord, causing paralysis and eventually, death.

2. ALS usually affects people between the ages of 30 and 70.  About 30,000 Americans are suffering from ALS at any given time.  This means that 5 out of every 100,000 people worldwide are suffering from ALS.

3.  There are many terrible symptoms associated with ALS.  The disease causes rapid weakening of the muscles, especially those of the hands, arms, legs, face, and mouth.  The massive weakening of the muscles causes slurred speech and cramping in the arms and legs.  Because victims of ALS have such weak muscles and are often paralyzed, it becomes impossible for them to take care of their daily needs, such as eating, bathing, and using the restroom.

4.  There are three different types of ALS: sporadic, familial, and guamanian.

               Sporadic: most common of all cases at around 92.5%.  This type of ALS occurs randomly and is very prevalent throughout the world.

               Familial: this type of ALS is genetic, running through genes from family member to family member. Someone possessing the ALS gene has a 50% chance of developing the disease. This type of ALS accounts for 7.5% of all cases.

               Guamanian:  This is a form of ALS that was first observed in Gaum and other Pacific territories in the 1950’s.  It is difficult to record how many cases of ALS fall into this category.

5.  Diagnosis of ALS is determined by a variety of tests performed by neurologists.  These tests include nerve and muscles tests and are performed after a patient notices some of the ALS symptoms setting in.

6. Treatment starts with the drug Riluzole.  It’s purpose is to slow the progress of ALS.  Baclofen and Diazepam are also taken to control the stiffness and rigidity of muscles and tendons.  Other drugs such as Trihexyphenidyl and Amitriptyline are taken to aid in loosening up the muscles of the mouth and through to help make eating and drinking easier.  These drugs are fairly expensive and do not cure ALS, but only help to manage the symptoms. 

7.  There is no known cause for ALS and there is also no cure.  Researchers have investigated many things as causes, including food supply, head trauma, and chemical explosions.  All of these studies so far have been inconclusive.

8.  Death from ALS is extremely slow and painful.  Death is usually caused when the muscles in the chest stop working, preventing the lungs from delivering oxygen to the brain.  Some deaths have also come as the result of malnourishment, from the patient not being able to eat and drink.

9.  Out of the 56 people that were euthanized by Dr. Jack Kevorkian, 10 suffered from ALS.  Their ages were 70, 30, 72, 27, 60, 59, 76, 55, 79, and 75.

10.  The first doctor to research ALS was Jean-Martin Charcot.  He was nicknamed “the father of modern neurology”.  He was also the first doctor to diagnose ALS.  The disease was first publicized in the United States in 1939 when the New York Yankees first baseman Lou Gehrig announced his retirement after being diagnosed with the disease.  Gehrig was only 36 at the time of his diagnosis.  Since then, ALS has been referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease.


Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. 14 August 2008. WebMD. 8 April 2011.      

ALS Fact Sheet. 30 March 2011.  National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.         8 April 2011.

What is ALS? The ALS Association. 8 April 2011.

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