ALS/Lou Gehrig’s Disease

What is ALS?

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, involves degeneration of motor neurons that control muscles, causing muscle wasting and loss of voluntary muscle control. ALS eventually leads to an inability to breathe and ultimately death. ALS occurs in approximately 1 to 4 per 100,000 individuals, and it is estimated that over 30,000 Americans are living with ALS. Each year 6,400 people are diagnosed in the U.S.

  • There is no cure for ALS and the disease is fatal
  • Average ALS survival is 2 to 4 years after diagnosis
  • There are two types of ALS: around 90% of ALS cases are not inherited, termed sporadic ALS, while 10% are inherited, called familial ALS
  • Gene mutations linked to ALS have been identified in 70% of patients with familial ALS
  • The cause and mechanism of ALS remain unknown in most cases
  • The rate of ALS is higher in the Midwest than in other parts of the country 

Why Choose Michigan

The Pranger ALS Clinic at University of Michigan Health has been named a Certified Treatment Center of Excellence by the ALS Association, which means we are recognized as the best in the field with regard to knowledge of and experience with ALS. We take a multidisciplinary team approach to treating our patients, allowing visits to be comprehensive while reducing the need for multiple visits.

Learn more about ALS Programs at Michigan Medicine.

Other Motor Neuron Diseases

While ALS is the most common motor neuron disease, we also treat all other forms, including:

  • PLS (Primary Lateral Sclerosis), affecting the upper motor neurons in the brain and spinal cord
  • PMA (Primary Muscular Atrophy), affecting the lower motor neurons from the spine to the muscle
  • PBP (Progressive Bulbar Palsy), affecting the speech, swallowing, and breathing areas of the brainstem
  • Kennedy’s Disease, an inherited disease that affects lower motor neurons

What Are the Symptoms of ALS?

The onset of ALS may be so subtle that the symptoms are overlooked. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently, depending on which muscles in the body are affected. The symptoms may include:

  • Weakness in muscles of the hands, arms or legs
  • Slurred speech, or difficulty chewing or swallowing
  • Tight and stiff muscles
  • Difficulties with memory or decision-making
  • Inappropriate crying or laughing

In later stages of the disease, individuals may have trouble breathing, and face an increased risk of pneumonia.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Diagnosis: Diagnosing (ALS) can be difficult because there is no single test or procedure to confirm the disease. Moreover, since many neurologic diseases cause similar symptoms, appropriate tests must be conducted to exclude the possibility of other conditions first.

Treatment: There are three treatments available that lengthen life:

  • Medication taken twice a day
  • Non-invasive ventilation: a therapy involving wearing a mask over the nose to take deep breaths with less effort, using a portable machine. Can be used intermittently.
  • Diet and nutritional therapy, to prevent weight loss, and in some cases, increase weight

Visit our Diagnosis and Treatment of ALS page to learn more.

Make an Appointment

To request an appointment or to get more information, please call 734-936-9006 and a team member will get back to you within two business days.

Online resources from the following organizations were cited for information on Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)symptoms, diagnosis and treatment:  

  • National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
  • National ALS Registry