Lou Gehrig's Disease
people who had Lou Gehrigs disease:
• Hall of Fame baseball pitcher Jim "Catfish" Hunter
• Sesame Street creator Jon Stone
• Actor David Niven
• Boxing champ Ezzard Charles
• Pro football player Glenn Montgomery
• New York Senator Jacob Javits
What Is Lou Gehrig's Disease?
disease refers to a disorder called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). In
the United States, ALS is often called Lou Gehrig's disease because of the
New York Yankees' star Lou Gehrig, who was diagnosed with ALS in the 1930s.
Lou Gehrig's disease damages spinal cord pathways and motor neurons, which
are important parts of the body's neuromuscular system. The neuromuscular
system enables our bodies to move and is made up of the brain, nerves, and
muscles. Things that we do every day, like breathing, walking, running, and
over all, moving, are all controlled by the neuromuscular system. Over time,
Lou Gehrig's disease causes these motor neurons in the brain and spinal cord
to shrink and disappear, so that the muscles no longer receive signals to
move. As a result, the muscles become smaller and weaker. The body then becomes
partially paralyzed, which means certain muscles no longer work. However,
someone with ALS, even at an advanced stage, can still see, hear, smell, and
feel touch. The nerves that carry feelings of hot, cold, pain, pressure, or
even being tickled, are not affected by Lou Gehrig's disease. The parts of
the brain that allow us to think, remember, and learn are also not affected
by the disease. Most people who develop Lou Gehrig's disease are adults between
40 and 70. Although this disease can strike anyone, it is very uncommon among
adults and extremely rare in children. Only two out of every 100,000 people
will get Lou Gehrig's disease. Because it is not contagious, you can't catch
ALS from someone who has the disease. 5 to 10% of ALS cases in the United
States are hereditary, which means the disease runs in certain families. This
is called familial ALS. At least 90% of cases are not inherited, which is
called sporadic ALS.
disease doesn't always begin or become worse in the same way. The disease
is different for every person who has it. In general, muscle weakness, especially
in the arms and legs, is an early symptom for about 60% of people with ALS.
Other early signs of the disease are tripping or falling a lot, dropping things,
having difficulty speaking, cramping and twitching of the muscles, and uncontrollable
periods of laughing or crying. As the disease gets worse over time, eating,
swallowing, and even breathing may become difficult. It may take several months
to know for sure that someone has Lou Gehrig's disease. The illness can cause
symptoms similar to other diseases that affect nerves and muscles, including
Parkinson's Disease and stroke. A doctor will examine the patient and do special
tests to see if it might be one of those other disorders. One of the tests,
an electromyogram, or EMG, can show that muscles are not working because of
damaged nerves. Other tests include X-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI),
blood, and urine evaluations. Sometimes a muscle or nerve biopsy is needed.
A biopsy is when a doctor takes a tiny sample of tissue from the body to study
under a microscope. Examining this tissue can help the doctor figure out what's
making someone sick.
there is currently no way to prevent or cure Lou Gehrig's disease, a number
of treatments are available to help people with the disease. There are medicines
that can control symptoms, such as muscle cramping and difficulty swallowing,
and help to delay the symptoms of the disease. Researchers are trying to find
new drugs that may help slow down the disease or even cure it. Physical therapy
can help people with ALS cope with muscle loss and breathing problems. Special
equipment is also provided when it becomes necessary. For instance, a power
wheelchair can enable a paralyzed person with ALS to get around. A machine
called a ventilator helps a person with ALS to breathe.
Life with Lou Gehrig's Disease
About half of all people with ALS live at least 3 years after they find out they have the disease. Twenty percent, or one in five, live 5 years or more. As many as 10% will survive more than 10 years. Living with Lou Gehrig's disease is physically difficult, but it is reassuring to know that the mind is not affected. People with the disease can think as clearly as ever, are able to maintain relationships with friends and family, and should be treated respectfully and normally. Communication can be difficult because the disease affects the person's breathing and the muscles needed for speech and arm movement. With patience, the families of patients with ALS can learn to communicate effectively with their loved one. Researchers continue to study ALS as they try to understand why it happens, and how the disease damages the nerves and spinal cord. As they learn more about the disease, researchers can continue to develop new and better treatments.
This picture shows the areas of the body affected by Lou Gehrig's Disease.
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