Background of ALS


Story by Catherine Hutinett

Although millions of people have dumped large amounts of ice water on their heads, it’s possible that some do not know the true reasoning behind the ALS ice bucket challenge.

So what is ALS? ALS is an abbreviation of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Lou Gehrig was a baseball player for the Yankees. According to the official website for the legacy of Lou Gehrig, in the 1938 season, he reported having mysterious muscle weaknesses. In the following season, his condition began to worsen, any by spring training in 1939, it was clear he could not stand another season. Less than two years after he left baseball, Gehrig died in his home on June 2, 1941.

The disease comes with a variety of symptoms such as deterioration of the use of the arms and legs, slurred speech, and in more advanced stages, shortness of breath, difficulty in breathing and swallowing, all ultimately leading to the death of the patient.

Currently there is no cure for ALS, but there has been a push to find it. As reported by ALS Association, 5,600 in the US alone are diagnosed with ALS a year and about two per 100,000 people have ALS. That means that about 30,000 American have this disease at any given time.

But who gets ALS? According to the ALS Association, about 15 people per day are diagnosed with ALS in the US. These people are usually between the ages of of 40-70,but on average 55 years old. Men are 20% more likely to develop ALS than women. Men who fought in the Gulf War are twice as likely to develop ALS than those who did not.

Most people who have ALS don’t live past the three year mark. In rare cases however, the patient could live for decades after being diagnosed.

Stephen Hawking, who some regard as the smartest man alive, was diagnosed at the age of 21 and by the age of 32 he was unable to feed or change himself. The physicist will be 73 in January, and survived more than 15 times the average patient. According to “Scientific American” Hawking has a rare form of ALS that allows the disease to progress slowly. Part of this slow progression may be due to the fact that he was diagnosed younger than most patients, and that he has received an ample amount of care.

As to a cure for ALS in the near future, Miriam Brodkin of the ALS Association, said “it’s much too difficult to speculate.”

Finding a cure for this disease may be one step closer, after this summer’s ice challenged raised a lot of money for the organization. At the end of August, Forbes reported that over $100 million has been raised to cure his disease.