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Introduction to Lou Gehrig’s disease

The medical name of this condition is amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. It is alsocalled Lou Gehrig’s disease after the famous baseball player who played for theNew York Yankees and was diagnosed with this disease in 1939. He died from theconsequences of this disease in 1941. Stephen Hawking, the renowned physicistand cosmologist, also has this disease.

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is a form of motor neuron disease. It is aprogressive, neurodegenerative disease caused by the deterioration of motorneurons, the nerve cells in the central nervous system that control one’svoluntary muscle movement. It causes muscle weakness, disability, and eventually, death.


Doctors do not yet know what the actual cause of this disease is, but it isbelieved that the genetic factor plays a vital role in about ten per cent ofthe cases. Also, free radicals are thought to be one of the causes. Theinherited form of ALS often involves a mutation in a gene accountable forproducing a strong antioxidant enzyme that protects the body’s cells fromdamage caused by free radicals.

Glutamate is, too, a possible cause, while it is known to harmsome nerve cells. Glutamate is a chemical messenger in the brain, but peoplewho have ASL have been proven to have higher levels of this substance in theirspinal fluid.


Lou Gehrig’s disease often begins with muscle twitching and weakness inan arm or leg, or with slurring of speech. Eventually, this condition affects one’sability to control the muscles needed to move, speak, eat and breathe.

The earliest symptoms may get easily overlooked. Early signs of this conditionare: hand weakness or clumsiness, muscle cramps and twitching of the tongue,arms or shoulders; weakness in feet, ankles or legs; slurry speech accompaniedby difficulties in swallowing, and, sometimes, uncontrollable fits of crying orlaughing.

As thiscondition advances, the muscles will become weaker until they are completelyparalyzed. Eventually, it will affect one’s voice, the ability to breathe,chew, and even speak, while the body is completely paralyzed.

Complicationsthat might arise from Lou Gehrig’s disease are malnutrition or dehydration. Thepatients are often put on a feeding tube, which reduces the risk of theiraspirating the food of liquids into their lungs. Also, people with this diseasehave a greater chance of having a respiratory failure once the muscles neededfor breathing are affected.


The only thing medical treatments may do is to slow the progress of thedisease. The drug riluzole is the first and only medication approved fortreating this disease. Riluzole is known to decelerate the degenerationof the neuron. It does so by reducing the level of glutamate which isresponsible for damaging the neuron.

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