Amyotrophic Lateral Disease

The St. Luke’s Center for Neuroscience is dedicated to expert care of conditions of the nervous system.

What is Amyotrophic Lateral Disease (ALS)?

Commonly called Lou Gehrig’s Disease, ALS attacks nerve cells in the spinal cord and brain. These nerve cells reach from the brain to the spinal cord then to the body’s muscles. ALS damages these cells and eventually causes them to die. When the cells die, the brain loses the ability to control muscle movement.

Early Symptoms of ALS

The early symptoms of ALS may differ from person to person, and are easy to overlook.

  • Dropping things
  • Tripping
  • Slurring speech
  • Fatigue

The hands and feet may be affected first, causing difficulty with:

  • Lifting
  • Walking
  • Daily activities such as dressing and washing

Since ALS attacks cells that control movement, a person’s sight, touch, hearing, taste and smell are not affected.

Later Signs of ALS

  • Weakening muscles in the hands, arms and legs.Weakening of the muscles that control speech, swallowing and/or breathing
  • Twitching or cramping muscles.Trouble using arms and legs
  • Muffled, quiet speech
  • Shortness of breath, and difficulty breathing and swallowing

Typically, ALS affects more men than women, and occurs between the ages of 40 and 60. According to the ALS Association, although the mean survival time for people with ALS is three to five years, many people live 10 years or longer.


Currently, there is no cure for ALS or treatment that halts its progression.


There are no known ways to prevent ALS.