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What is ALS and why is it called Lou Gehrig’s disease?


ALS is a rare neurological condition that was named after baseball legend Lou Gehrig.

The Iron Horse died in 1941, two years after he was diagnosed with the condition.

 Lou Gehrig died in 1941, two years after he was diagnosed with ALS

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Lou Gehrig died in 1941, two years after he was diagnosed with ALS

What is ALS?

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)  is an incurable fatal neuromuscular disease that affects voluntary muscles in the body.

Progressive muscle weakness leads to paralysis and eventually death.

The disease attacks nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord and motor neurons, which control the movement of voluntary muscles, deteriorate and cause stiffness, twitching, weakness and eventually leads to difficulties speaking, swallowing and breathing.

Eventually, the condition causes paralysis and patients usually die from respiratory failure.

The disorder became well-known after baseball player Lou Gehrig was diagnosed with it in June 1939.

It was followed by the 1963 diagnosis of Stephen Hawking.

Its profile was boosted in 2014 when an online challenge went viral.

The “ice bucket challenge”, also known as the “ALS ice bucket challenge”, saw participants tip buckets of freezing water full of ice over themselves or others, after being nominated.

Once someone completed the challenge, they then nominated three friends to follow suit.

Professor Stephen Hawking, who passed away on March 14, 2018 also starred in an ALS ice bucket challenge in 2014, when he introduced his three children undertaking the challenge on his behalf, as he had recently had pneumonia.

He said: “I urge everyone to donate to the MNDA [Motor Neurone Disease Association] to eliminate this terrible disease.”

What is the life expectancy for someone with ALS?

ALS sufferers usually have a life expectancy of two to four years from diagnosis.

Around ten per cent of people live longer than a decade after diagnosis, and the most common cause of death among those with ALS is respiratory failure.

Why is it called Lou Gehrig’s disease?

ALS is also known as MND, Charcot disease and Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Henry Louis “Lou” Gehrig was born in the US in 1903, and was a successful baseball player.

He held many records in his day, including the most career grand slams, 23, broken in 2013, and the most consecutive games played, 2,130 which stood for 56 years.

Nicknamed The Iron Horse, he had a stellar career but his performance nosedived, and he was diagnosed with ALS on his 36th birthday in June 1939.

Two days after his diagnosis, he retired from the sport and his condition was made public.

Just two years later, on June 2 1941, Gehrig passed away.

Due to his fame, ALS is commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease in North America.

What causes ALS?

ALS is usually diagnosed around 60 and in inherited cases from age 50 onwards.

There is no known cause, although in around five to ten per cent of cases it is hereditary.

Both genetic and environmental factors are believed to be involved.

Currently there is no cure for ALS and treatment is targeted at improving the symptoms.

Professor Stephen Hawking’s children get drenched in the ALS ice bucket challenge





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