5 things you probably didn’t know about amyotrophic lateral sclerosis

Most likely, you too have recently come across the ever-increasing challenge of celebrities dousing themselves with buckets of ice-cold water.

The goal is to draw public attention to the so-called “Lou Gehrig’s disease” or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and in this way to raise funds for the treatment of those suffering from this disease.

In the first few days alone, 15 million people witnessed celebrities getting drenched on Facebook. But what is actually behind the name amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and what does the public know about it?

Here are 5 things you might not know about this fatal neurological disease:

1. The disease can affect the mind and body.

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis attacks the nerve cells responsible for voluntary movements, making it increasingly difficult to move the limbs over time and making sufferers increasingly serious challenges.

And while the disease doesn’t usually affect a person’s intelligence, several recent studies from the US National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke suggest that some people with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis may become depressed, yes experience difficulties in making decisions and even memory disorders.

2. This disease is not necessarily hereditary.

In about 5 to 10 percent of all cases of the disease, other people have had cases in the family, but 90 percent of patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis has no family history of this disease, reports the ALS Association.

More research is needed on possible risk factors, but it has been found that military veterans, such as those who served in the Persian Gulf War, are twice as likely to develop the disease.

3. The disease is more common in men, as well as in white people.

Each year in the United States, about 5,600 new cases of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis are diagnosed. In men, the disease is 20% more common than in women, and results show that approximately 93% of those affected are of Caucasian (European) race.

The greatest concentration of cases is between the ages of 60 and 69, but in fact the disease can also affect much younger people. In 2012, a 29-year-old man was diagnosed and started the ice challenge.

4. Symptoms are not sudden.

A person does not wake up one morning unable to move their arms or legs. In fact, in the beginning, the symptoms are so subtle that they often go unnoticed.

Early signs may include cramps, tight and stiff muscles, mild twitching, difficulty chewing or swallowing. Ultimately, patients lose vital functions such as breathing and swallowing.

Most people live for two to five years after the first noticeable symptoms appear. In most cases, people die from respiratory failure.

5. People with the disease may live longer with treatment

Although life with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is not easy, clinical trials show that a drug called Riluzole (the only FDA-approved drug of its kind and Food in the US) may help those fighting the disease to extend their lives by about 7 months.

This drug has its weaknesses and does not reverse the damage that the disease has already done to neurons. With more awareness and donations through campaigns like the Ice Bucket Challenge, however, there is hope for of new research and the discovery of potentially new treatment methods.

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