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Q: What is ALS?

ALS—amyotrophic lateral sclerosis—is a neurological disease. It's often called Lou Gehrig's Disease, after the baseball player who died of the disease. In ALS, nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord atrophy, break down, and die. The nerve cells that are affected control a person's muscles, so as they stop working, the person gradually loses the ability to move. At first the person's arms and legs are affected, but eventually this loss of muscle control affects their ability to swallow and breathe.

ALS affects around 20,000 people in the U.S. each year, and scientists don't know what causes it. About 5 to 10% of cases are inherited. For the rest, age seems to be the most important factor, with most cases diagnosed between the ages of 40 and 60. There is no cure for ALS but medication and treatment can help people live longer and improve their quality of life.

Christopher K. Taleghani, MD

Neurosurgery, Minimally invasive spine surgery

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