Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis is a rapidly progressing, neuromuscular illness that is always fatal. Known in France as Charcot’s Disease – after the neurologist who first described it 130 years ago – and in America as Lou Gehrig’s Disease – after the famous baseball player who died of it in the 1940s, it is characterized by the progressive degeneration of the neurons controlling the motor muscles, gradually leading to total paralysis of the body while leaving the intellectual faculties untouched.
We do not yet know what causes ALS. Genetic inheritance may play a role, but only in about 5 to 10% of cases.
According to the World Health Organization, neurodegenerative diseases are predicted to surpass cancer as the second leading cause of death in Canada by 2040. ALS is the most common cause of death from a neurological disorder in Canada; approximately 3,000 Canadians currently live with ALS.
ALS can strike anyone, regardless of age, sex or ethnic origin. Although ALS generally develops between the ages of 50 and 75, it can occur in people as young as 20. ALS usually leads to death within three to five years of the diagnosis, although for some unknown reason, 10 to 15% of patients survive about 10 years after they have been diagnosed.