The Facts on ALS
October 11, 2021
ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, is a debilitating disease that affects motor nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. This causes a wide variety of symptoms, but most commonly and universally, people with ALS experience progressive muscle weakening and paralysis. As many as 30,000 people in the United States have ALS, and about 5,000 new cases are diagnosed every year.
You may have heard of ALS due to the Ice Bucket Challenge, or even as its previously common name, Lou Gehrig’s disease. Here are answers to some of the most common questions asked about ALS.
Can You Prevent ALS?
No. “Unfortunately there is no way to prevent ALS,” says Mary Sedarous, M.D., neuromuscular medicine specialist and director of the ALS Center at Jersey Shore University Medical Center and assistant professor, Department of Neurology, Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine. “For many people with ALS, there is not even a clear identifying cause of the disease.” Researchers have studied numerous potential causes, such as diet, lifestyle and environment, among others. However, to this date, no clear reason has been identified.
For other patients with ALS, the cause is genetic. For about 5 to 10 percent of people with ALS, there is a clear genetic line to another family member with ALS. This is called familial ALS.
“Genetic testing can be done for ALS,” says Dr. Sedarous. “I recommend discussing your options with a genetic counselor before undergoing the testing process.”
Who Is at Risk of ALS?
“Because there is no clear identifying cause for many cases of ALS, it is difficult to pinpoint risk factors,” says neurologist Florian Thomas, M.D., Ph.D., co-director of the ALS Center and professor and founding Chair, Department of Neurology, Hackensack University Medical Center and Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine. Dr. Thomas explains that the clearest risk factor is having a family history of ALS.
That being said, Dr. Thomas points to some other factors to consider:
- ALS is more common in older people, and your risk of getting ALS increases as you age. It is most common between ages 40 and 70.
- ALS is 20 percent more common in men than women.
Will ALS Ever Be Cured?
It is hard to say. Currently there is no cure for ALS, but that is not due to lack of effort from doctors and researchers.
“Research is ongoing, and treatments and medications that help slow the effects of ALS are continually being discovered,” says Dr. Thomas. “Today, ALS treatment is an interprofessional undertaking that includes respiratory support, medication, physical therapy, speech therapy, assistive devices and other forms of treatment and support. And at Hackensack, we are pursuing a small, phase 1 study that seeks to show that re-educating the bone marrow to produce less neuro-inflammation may be helpful in ALS.”
Next Steps & Resources:
- Meet our sources: Florian Thomas, M.D., Ph.D., and Mary Sedarous, M.D. To make an appointment with a doctor near you, call 800-822-8905.
The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.
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