Imagine being seemingly healthy one day and the next being diagnosed with a progressive, degenerative neurological disorder that will slowly interfere with your ability to move, speak, eat and even breathe. This disease, a tragic reality for thousands of Americans, is called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS.
ALS is incurable. For reasons not well understood, nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that control voluntary muscle movement gradually deteriorate. As a result, muscles atrophy, leading to paralysis and death, often in three to five years.
Messages from motor neurons in the brain and spinal cord are scrambled in ALS. These control functions like limb movement, swallowing and aspects of breathing. Senses and thinking processes remain normal in people living with ALS and, thankfully, pain is rare at any stage.
French neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot discovered the disease in 1869. In the United States, ALS is often called Lou Gehrig