Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or "Lou Gehrig's Disease," is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. Motor neurons reach from the brain to the spinal cord and from the spinal cord to the muscles throughout the body.
Muscle weakness or stiffness are early symptoms of ALS. The Weakness progressing, leading to wasting and paralysis of the muscles of the limbs and trunk as well as those that control vital functions such as speech, swallowing and eventually, breathing.
As the disease progresses patients lose the ability to speak. Current options for them to communicate may include eye tracking programs.
Life expectancy of an ALS patient following diagnosis is 2 to 5 years however, some can live longer. According to the ALS Association, 5% of ALS patients live 20 years after diagnosis. The two main types of ALS are: 1) Sporadic (90 to 95% of cases) and 2) Familial (5 to 10% of cases). Approximately 5,600 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with ALS each year and 30,000 have the disease at any given time.