What is ALS?
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) – also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease – is a rare disease that affects nerve cells that are responsible for controlling muscle movement. It is a progressive condition, meaning that people living with ALS experience a continuing decline in muscle strength. At this point, there is no cure for ALS.
There are two types of ALS:
- Limb onset: symptoms begin in the arms and legs
- Bulbar onset: symptoms are first noticed in speech or swallowing
Who gets ALS?
Although ALS is not very common, you should know that you’re not alone. There are about 20,000 people living with ALS in the United States today. Every year, about 6,000 more people are diagnosed with ALS in the US alone. Men tend to get diagnosed with ALS slightly more often than women. But as people age, the gap in diagnoses between men and women becomes smaller.
Most of the time, there is no known cause for ALS. However, in some cases, there is a genetic connection.
Military connection to ALS: People who have served in the military are up to 2 times more likely to develop ALS.
What challenges do people living with ALS face?
Most of the symptoms of ALS are related to muscles becoming weaker or stiffer. This can pose issues in everyday activities. These issues can include:
- Muscle twitches or spasm
- Difficulty chewing
- Difficulty swallowing
- Slurred speech
Swallowing problems with ALS
Problems chewing, swallowing, and drinking are also known as dysphagia (pronounced “dis-FAY-ja”).
Swallowing problems can cause a range of issues:
Difficulty eating dry or crumbly foods
Difficulty taking some types of medicine
Aspiration, which is when foods or liquids go down the wrong tube and into the lungs
Swallowing problems with ALS are common:
About 33% of people living with ALS have swallowing problems at the onset of disease
More than 80% experience swallowing problems at some point
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