Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), sometimes called Lou Gehrig's disease, is a rapidly progressive, invariably fatal neurological disease that attacks the nerve cells (neurons) responsible for controlling voluntary muscles (muscle action we are able to control, such as those in the arms, legs, and face). The disease belongs to a group of disorders known as motor neuron diseases, which are characterized by the gradual degeneration and death of motor neurons.
Symptoms: The onset of ALS may be so subtle that the symptoms are overlooked. The earliest symptoms may include fasciculations, cramps, tight and stiff muscles (spasticity), muscle weakness affecting an arm or a leg, slurred and nasal speech, or difficulty chewing or swallowing.
These general complaints then develop into more obvious weakness or atrophy that may cause a physician to suspect ALS. No one test can provide a definitive diagnosis of ALS, although the presence of upper and lower motor neuron signs is strongly suggestive.
Although no one knows for sure the exact statistics of ALS, reports suggest 12,000 – 15,000 people have ALS; every year doctors tell about 5,000 people that they have it. Because records on ALS have not been kept throughout the country, it is hard to estimate the number of ALS cases. ALS is slightly more common in men than women.