You may remember the Ice Bucket challenge that spread around social media a few years ago and how, for a number of months, it seemed to dominate our social media feeds.
The Ice Bucket challenge was created to raise awareness for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) or Lou Gehrig’s Disease as it is often referred to in the US. ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease which ultimately leads to death. There is no cure.
It involves the destruction of nerves in the body which are responsible for voluntary movements and over time the diagnosed individual will start to lose their ability to move, speak, eat and even breathe.
But whilst the Ice Bucket Challenge did wonders for increasing awareness of this disease as well as help fund on-going research, it still remains a condition for which many people don’t know much about it.
Below are 10 facts about ALS to help you improve your understanding of this devastating condition.
More Common in Men
According to statistics, ALS is more common in men than it is in women.
Currently, as medical professionals are unable to pinpoint the known cause of the majority of ALS cases, the pursuit of finding a cure remains a big challenge. That said, there are treatment options and therapies available which can help to slow down the progression of the disease and manage some of the symptoms.
Early Signs of ALS
Typically, one of the first signs that someone could have ALS is when they experience muscle weakness. However, this can vary between people and can occur in a variety of places of the body. Some of the most common places that muscle weakness is experienced by individuals with ALS include the limbs, the face, the throat and the tongue. As the disease progresses over time, other muscles within the body will also be affected.
It’s estimated that as many as 90% of new cases of ALS occur with no known causes or triggers. This is known as sporadic ALS. However, in around 10% of cases, it’s estimated that a genetic element is responsible.
The average time that it takes between the first symptoms being experienced and a definitive ALS diagnosis being confirmed is 12 months. The fact that many of the initial symptoms associated with ALS are also present amongst other medical conditions can further add to the diagnostic delay.
Varying Levels of Progression
Everyone who is diagnosed with ALS will find that the condition progresses differently within their body. As a benchmark, around 20% of people with ALS will live for 5 years or more after their first symptoms. A further 10% will be expected to live more than 10 years after their first symptoms. Unfortunately, this means that the majority of people diagnosed with ALS will not live longer than between two and five years following their diagnosis.
Not a Single Disease
Genetic research has shown that ALS is not one stand-alone disease. Instead it is a combination of several related diseases all of which will have a similar end result to one another. This could be one of the main reasons why it is proving so hard to develop an effective treatment for the disease.
For most people, ALS will affect them physically. However, for up to half of those with ALS there is also likely to be some decline in cognitive ability too. As well as this, around 10% of those with ALS will also be diagnosed with dementia.
Individuals who have ALS will burn calories that they take in faster than those who do not have the condition; which can contribute to them appearing comparatively underweight.
Increased Risk Amongst Veterans
Research suggests that members of the military are at a higher risk from developing ALS than the general public. There is also evidence to suggest that athletes may also be more susceptible to developing the disease. Suggestions have been made that nerve injuries may, in some cases, be responsible for triggering the disease. This could perhaps explain why these two groups of individuals are considered more likely to be diagnosed with ALS compared with others who have not been exposed to this type of trauma.