What Does a Bucket of Ice Water Have to do With ALS?
Over the past few weeks, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has taken the country by storm. Between celebrities and all of your social media connections, it seems like everyone is getting soaked in the name of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), often referred to as "Lou Gehrig's Disease."
While it’s funny to watch your friends dump icy cold water on themselves, the purpose of the ice bucket challenge is to raise both awareness and monetary donations to find treatments and a cure for ALS.
But here’s a little more about ALS – information you might not be getting in your Facebook feed.
What is ALS?
Crozer-Keystone neurologist Pasquale Brancazio, D.O. calls ALS “a devastating neurodegenerative disease that affects the motor system.”
ALS is a disorder that affects the function of nerves and muscles – it attacks the motor neurons in the brain, brain stem and spinal cord. Motor neurons are nerve cells responsible for controlling voluntary muscle movements, such as those in our arms, legs and face.
When motor neurons die, the brain losses the ability to initiate and control muscle movement. The early symptoms of the disease typically include muscle twitches; cramps; tight and stiff muscles; muscle weakness, especially in the arms and legs; slurred and nasal speech or difficulty chewing or swallowing.
What Happens to People Who Have ALS?
With ALS, when the muscles are unable to function, they gradually weaken, waste away and have very fine twitches. “[Patients] usually lose the ability to walk and then talk and will require assistance with most activities of daily living,” said Dr. Brancazio. “As the swallowing muscle become weaker patients will need alternative methods of receiving nutrition,” such as a feeding tube.
When muscles in the diaphragm and chest wall fail due to the disease, patients lose the ability to breathe without ventilator support. Most people diagnosed with ALS ultimately die from respiratory failure, typically within three to five years from the initial onset of symptoms. There are exceptions – approximately 10 percent of ALS patients survive for 10 or more years.
ALS does not usually impact a person’s ability to see, smell, taste, hear or recognize touch, nor does it affect their mind or intelligence.
Is There a Cure?
Currently, there is no cure for ALS. A drug called Riluzole has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration, and it can slow the progress of the disease, but typically only prolongs survival by a few months.
Who Gets ALS?
ALS is not contagious. Most people that develop the disorder are between the ages of 40 and 70, with an average age of 55 at the time of diagnosis. But, there have been cases of the disease developing in people in their twenties and thirties.
According to the ALS Association, a little more than 5,600 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with ALS each year – that's 15 new cases a day. At any given time, it’s estimated that as many as 30,000 Americans have the disease.
Has the Ice Bucket Challenge Helped?
When people take the ice bucket plunge in the name of ALS, donations further the ALS Association’s mission to find a cure for the disease in addition to funding the high quality of care for people living with it. “The ice bucket challenge has been a wonderful event,” said Dr. Brancazio. “It has increased awareness … many people have learned of the disease for the first time due to this.”
The hope is that the challenge has created a platform for ALS organizations, pharmaceutical companies and others to work together to expedite new treatments for people impacted by the disease.
For More Information
Find additional information about ALS here. For information about Crozer-Keystone’s neurology services or to schedule an appointment with a Crozer-Keystone neurologist who is right for you, please call 1-800-CK-HEALTH (1-800-254-3258) or visit our Find a Provider page and choose 'Neurology' in the Specialty drop-down box.