May is National ALS Awareness Month. ALS stands for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, which is also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease. It is a progressive, neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. These cells control the muscles in the body. As the cells die, the brain loses the ability to control the muscles. As the disease progresses, the patient may become totally paralyzed.
Approximately 30,000 Americans live with ALS. About 5,600 people are diagnosed each year. Ninety percent have no family history of the disease. Most of those who are diagnosed are between the ages of 40 and 60. Military veterans are twice as likely to develop ALS than the general population.
The cause of ALS is not known. Possible causes include:
- An autoimmune response that causes the body to attack its own motor neurons
- An abnormality of the immune system that causes inflammation in the brain and spinal cord
- Exposure to toxins
- A virus
- Nutritional deficiencies
Initial symptoms of ALS include:
- Muscle weakness in the hands, arms, or legs
- Muscle twitches
- Cramping in the hands and feet
- Weight loss
- Thick speech or problems projecting the voice
- Shortness of breath
- Difficulty breathing or swallowing
- Outbursts of laughing or crying
Because ALS has such a devastating effect on quality of life, those diagnosed with ALS are automatically approved for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Medicare, as long as the disease affects their ability to work. There is no cure for ALS. Treatment focuses on relieving symptoms and improving the patient’s quality of life. You can learn more about SSDI for ALS by reading our article, “SSA Fast-Tracks Social Security Benefits for People with ALS,” or by contacting the Boston SSDI lawyers at Keefe Disability Law at 888-904-6847.