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Last Updated: Mar 23, 2017 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

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Nursing Health & Illness III

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Kerrie Asche, Lydia Brooke, Holly Petzoldt,
Kayla Schnakenberg

What is ALS?

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis... Let's break it down: Amyotrophic comes from the Greek language; "A" translates to no, "myo" translates to muscle, and "trophic" translates to nourishment. So, it is just like it sounds; no muscle nourishment. When this happens, the muscle wastes away. The term lateral refers to the area in the spinal cord where nerve cells that control the muscles, are located. Sclerosis is defined as scarring or hardening. ALS is a progressive, neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in both the brain and the spinal cord. 

Motor neurons go from the brain to the spinal cord to the muscles. It is these that provide voluntary movements and muscle control. The ability of the brain to initiate and control muscle movement is lost when these neurons die. Individuals affected by ALS will eventually lose the ability to eat, speak, move and breathe. 

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, or ALS, is also referred to as Lou Gehrig's Disease.


ALS Association


Living with ALS


How Lou Gehrig's Disease got its Name

Lou Gehrig was a very talented athlete, who attended Columbia University on a football scholarship and studied Engineering. While there, he also participated on the baseball team. He had "admirable pitching skills and remarkable ability to hit home runs." He was then recruited to play for the New York Yankees in 1923. Gehrig earned the nickname "Iron Horse" as he continued to play despite injuries to his hand, foot, and back. He helped lead the Yankees to 6 World Series Championships. 

In 1938, he began noticing that it was becoming harder for him to tie his shoes. More importantly, he was having trouble maintaining a winning streak for his baseball career. He was seen the following year at Mayo Clinic where he was diagnosed with ALS. That same year, he retired from the New York Yankees. His teammates, friends, and fans gathered together on July 4, 1939 at Yankee Stadium paying tribute to Gehrig. In the speech that he gave, he referred to himself as "the luckiest man on the face of the earth." After retiring from baseball, he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame and his jersey was retired. On June 2, 1941, almost exactly 2 years after giving his speech, Lou Gehrig died in his sleep at his home at the age of 37. 

To this day, he remains an inspiration to millions of people. "He continues to represent fortitude, humility, and courage to tens of thousands of Americans living with the disease that bears his name." 

ALS Association


Facts About ALS

  • ALS is not contagious
  • The average life expectancy of an individual diagnosed with ALS is 2-5 years from the time of diagnosis
    • the disease is variable
    • many people live with the disease for 5+ years
  • It is a progressive disease
    • people lose the ability to walk, dress, write, speak, swallow, and breathe
    • how fast and in what order this happens is different for every individual
  • Military veterans are twice as likely to develop ALS
  • Each year, about 6,000 people are diagnosed with ALS in the United States
    • ALS can affect anyone
    • 60% of people in the ALS Database are men and 93% are Caucasion
  • Early symptoms can include:
    • muscle stiffness
    • muscle weakness
  • These symptoms progress to paralysis of limbs and the trunk of the body 
  • ALS is 100% fatal.


ALS Association


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