Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), known commonly as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a rare neurological disorder. It’s a progressive disease that gets worse with time, and doctors aren’t sure exactly what causes it.
Various campaigns and challenges have drawn attention to ALS in recent years, but some misconceptions continue to persist in the public consciousness. Luckily, myths are easily dispelled with facts.
At The Spine and Sports Center in Sugarland and Houston, Texas, Dr. Ed Benny provides services for patients with neurological challenges like ALS. Here are his “must-know” myths and facts about ALS.
An overview of ALS
Named after a famous baseball player diagnosed in 1939, Lou Gehrig’s disease is a degenerative condition that affects the brain and spinal cord. Over time, those diagnosed with ALS will slowly begin to lose functioning, leading to the following effects:
- Slurred speech
- Difficulty crying
- Tongue atrophy
- Loss of mobility
- Excessive emotional reactions
- Muscle wasting
- Breathing problems
- Cognitive impairment
The symptoms of ALS will gradually worsen over time. Treatment involves making sure the person is well cared for, comfortable, and as healthy as possible. This often requires caretakers, mental health professionals, social workers, speech therapists, and neurologists.
Myths and facts about ALS
Like any other disease, there’s a lot of false information surrounding ALS. Compared to other conditions, we know very little about Lou Gerhig’s disease, what causes it, and how to treat it. The more gaps in our knowledge, the more other people try to fill them, which can lead to harmful myths.
Myth: ALS only causes motor impairment
Fact: Up to 50% of people diagnosed with ALS also experience cognitive decline, with some going on to develop dementia. After an ALS diagnosis, it’s important to be prepared for anything — and cognitive impairment is never off the table.
Myth: ALS only affects older people
Fact: Lou Gerhig himself was diagnosed in his mid-30s, and the median age for diagnosis is around the mid-50s. Unlike other degenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s, teenagers and seniors alike can develop ALS.
Myth: ALS is caused by Lyme disease
Fact: Early symptoms of ALS closely match that of Lyme disease, including fatigue, weakness, and muscle twitches. However, there is no link between these two conditions.
Myth: ALS is usually hereditary
Fact: While familial ALS accounts for 5-10% of cases, most are sporadic. This means no cause is known. Men seem to be slightly more susceptible than women, and smoking and lead exposure have been identified as possible risks, but the cause of ALS isn’t understood.
Learning more about ALS
If you or a loved one has recently been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, you’re probably looking for answers. Online research can be a great way to learn more and connect with other people affected by this disease, but only a specialist can confirm or deny what you learn.
Dr. Benny is happy to help clear up misconceptions and answer any questions you may have about ALS. Schedule a consultation today by calling our location closest to you, or visit our contact page for more information.