The brain sends out signals based on information it receives from the world and from inside the body. The signals travel via the spinal cord to the motor neurons which fire muscles that allow us to move and react according to the messages sent from the brain.
In patients with Lou Gehrig’s disease, or ALS, motor neurons degenerate, which means muscles can’t fire properly. These unused muscles degenerate and eventually stop working.
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord.
In Greek, “a” means no, “myo” means muscle, and “trophic” means nutrition. “No muscle nutrition” or muscle atrophy means that muscles degenerate or breakdown.
This is the area in the spinal cord where nerve cells that signal and control the muscles are found.
As this area degenerates or breaks down, it leads to abnormal hardening (“sclerosis”) or hardening in that area of the spine.
ALS is a progressive and almost always fatal disease that prevents communication between the nervous system and the voluntary muscles of the body. People may lose the ability to speak, eat, and move, eventually becoming paralyzed. As the disease progresses, the muscles responsible for breathing are affected, and respiration fails.
There is no treatment for ALS. It’s considered among the most difficult ways to die.
ALS affects 20,000–30,000 men and women in the United States at any given time. It occurs in people of all races and ethnic backgrounds. About 5–10% of ALS cases are inherited; the cause of the remaining 90–95% of cases is not known.