ALS Awareness Month: Facts You Need to Know About ALS
June is amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) awareness month, so the question is, how many facts do you know about ALS, the most common cause of neurological death in Canada?
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, Charcot disease, and sometimes motor neuron disease, is a non-communicable, fatal disease that involves the death of neurons. ALS is characterized by muscle weakness and other negative physical function effects. Eventually, ALS can affect the muscles needed to move, speak, eat, and breathe.
There are two types of ALS: sporadic and familial. Familial ALS accounts for only 5-10% of cases and is genetic in nature. Sporadic ALS can happen to anyone at any time. The average age of onset is 65 years for sporadic ALS while for familial ALS the average onset is between 46-55 years of age. Typical initial complaints for ALS sufferers include muscle weakness and stiffness.
The following are statistics and facts about who gets ALS:
- Approximately 2,500-3,000 Canadians are currently living with ALS.
- ALS is diagnosed in about 1 in 50,000 people in Canada each year.
- For most of the lifespan, ALS is more prevalent in men than in women with a male-to-female ratio of 1.5:2.1, however this difference normalizes later in life.
- The estimated risk of getting ALS for individuals age 18 and over is 1 in 350 for men and 1 in 420 for women.
- Research is currently ongoing as to the causes of sporadic ALS but it may be caused by a gene mutation, chemical imbalance (especially glutamate), or a disorganized immune response.
- Smoking appears to increase a person’s risk of ALS twofold. The more years spent smoking, the greater the risk.
- Lead exposure may put a person at increased risk of ALS.
- People who have served in the military are at greater risk for ALS although it is not clear why.
ALS Prognosis Facts and Statistics
The end prognosis for ALS is always death as ALS is incurable and fatal. However, some people do live many years with an ALS diagnosis. The following are some ALS prognosis facts and statistics:
- The life expectancy for a person with ALS is about 2-5 years from the time of diagnosis.
- About 20% of people with ALS live five years or more.
- Up to 10% will live more than 10 years and 5% will live 20 years.
- In a small number of people ALS stops progressing and very occasionally the symptoms of ALS may be reversed.
The typical (and only Food and Drug Administration approved) medication for ALS is the antiglutamate drug riluzole. This drug has been shown to statistically prolong a person’s life by at least a few months. Other studies suggest that this drug may slow the progress of ALS allowing a person more time at a higher functioning state.
Drugs like benzodiazepines and others may also be prescribed to deal with some of the symptoms of ALS like fatigue, muscle cramps, spasticity, and excess saliva and phlegm.
“This article was written by award-winning mental health writer and speaker, Natasha Tracy.”