Content Provided By

NINDS Disorders is an index of neurological conditions provided by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. This valuable tool offers detailed descriptions, facts on treatment and prognosis, and patient organization contact information for over 500 identified neurological disorders.

AAN Press Releases
Mercury in Fish, Seafood May Be Linked to Higher Risk of ALS 02.20.2017
Stem Cell Treatment for Lou Gehrig’s Disease May Be Safe 06.29.2016
Maryland and Florida Scientists Win Sheila Essey Award for ALS Research 03.07.2013
Stem Cells May Hold Promise for Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS) 01.09.2013
ALS Researcher Who Died of ALS Honored with New Research Fellowship 02.28.2012
London Neurologist Wins $25,000 Sheila Essey Award for ALS Research 02.21.2012
Low Vitamin B12 Levels May Lead to Brain Shrinkage, Cognitive Problems 09.26.2011
AAN Foundation Awards $240,000 Brain Research Award to Massachusetts General Hospital Researcher 04.13.2011
Lithium Shows No Benefit for People with ALS 08.11.2010
New Treatment Helps Control Involuntary Crying and Laughing – Common in MS, ALS Patients 04.13.2010
Cedars-Sinai Researcher Receives AAN’s Sheila Essey Award–An Award for ALS Research 03.30.2010
Free Audio Conference Call for ALS Patients on Best Treatments to Live Longer, Easier 01.21.2010
New Guidelines Identify Best Treatments to Help ALS Patients Live Longer, Easier 10.12.2009
Growth Hormone Not Beneficial for ALS 11.24.2008
Chemical Exposure May Increase Risk of ALS 04.16.2008
AAN Foundation and The ALS Association Honor Philadelphia Researcher for ALS Research 04.16.2008
Johns Hopkins Neurologist Receives AAN S. Weir Mitchell Award 04.07.2008
Belgium Researcher Receives AAN’s Sheila Essey Award 04.07.2008
Strengthening Exercises May Slow Progression of ALS 06.04.2007
AAN Foundation Honors Massachusetts Researcher for ALS Gene Research 04.23.2007
AAN Honors Columbia University Researcher for ALS Research 04.11.2007
Massachusetts General Hospital Neurologist Honored by AAN for ALS Research 04.11.2007
Increased Depression, Burden, Reported in Family Caregivers of ALS Patients 03.19.2007
Majority of ALS Patients Are Not Depressed 07.11.2005
Increased Physical Activity Not Linked to ALS Risk 01.24.2005
Veterans Have Increased Risk of ALS 04.28.2004
Two Studies Find Gulf War Veterans Have Increased Risk of ALS 09.22.2003
Hypothesis Linking Flying Foxes to High Incidence of ALS/PDC Gets Boost From New Study 08.11.2003
Stem Cells Contribute to Tissue Regeneration in Mice with ALS 03.31.2003
Athleticism and Body Weight Tied to ALS and Other Motor Neuron Diseases 09.09.2002
Can Viral Infections Cause ALS? 09.24.2001
Neurology Today
New Data Confirm the Role of Inflammatory Markers in ALS 11.01.2012
Oligodendroglia Found to Play a Role in Motor Neuron Death and ALS 08.16.2012
NEWS FROM THE AAN ANNUAL MEETING: C9ORF72 Studies Shed Light on the Most Common Genetic Cause of ALS and FTD 07.05.2012
IN THE FIELD: Sheila Essey Awardee Christopher Shaw, MBChB, MD: On Taking the Back Roads to Unraveling ALS Genetics 07.05.2012
Antisense Therapy for ALS Found Safe, but More Safety Data are Sought 06.21.2012
News from the AAN Annual Meeting: Common Inflammatory Pathways Identified for ALS Animal Model and Humans With Disease, Suggesting New Therapeutic Targets 06.07.2012
Turning Off Mutant TDP-43 Stops ALS in an Animal Model 03.01.2012
Is ALS Ready for a Staging Model? 03.01.2012
Richard K. Olney, MD, Renowned ALS Researcher Dies of ALS at 64 03.01.2012
Encouraging Phase 2 Results for Dexpramipexole for ALS Prompt Phase 3 Trial 12.15.2011
Encouraging Phase 2 Results for Dexpramipexole for ALS Prompt Phase 3 Trial 12.15.2011
Major New Gene Discovery Links ALS to Frontotemporal Dementia 10.20.2011
Is a Diaphragm Pacing System for ALS Ready for Prime Time? 10.20.2011
Sporadic ALS Astrocytes are Found Toxic to Motor Neurons 09.01.2011
Mutants Identified that Implicate New Pathway for Multiple Forms of ALS 09.01.2011
News from the AAN Annual Meeting: ALS Trial Patients Don't Reflect the General ALS Population: A True Treatment Effect May be Elusive 06.02.2011
A Million Dollar Idea — A Potential Biomarker for ALS 03.17.2011
‘Breath Stacking’ Reported to Make Swallowing Safer in ALS 03.03.2011
Drug to Combat Muscle Fatigue Looks Promising in ALS 02.17.2011
Did Lou Gehrig Have Lou Gehrig's Disease? 09.16.2010
What to Do When Patients Ask for Unproven Remedies? 09.02.2010

  Print-friendly Version

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), sometimes called Lou Gehrig's disease, is a rapidly progressive, invariably fatal neurological disease that attacks the nerve cells (neurons) responsible for controlling voluntary muscles.  In ALS, both the upper motor neurons and the lower motor neurons degenerate or die, ceasing to send messages to muscles. Unable to function, the muscles gradually weaken, waste away, and twitch. Eventually the ability of the brain to start and control voluntary movement is lost.  Individuals with ALS lose their strength and the ability to move their arms, legs, and body. When muscles in the diaphragm and chest wall fail, individuals lose the ability to breathe without ventilatory support.  The disease does not affect a person's ability to see, smell, taste, hear, or recognize touch, and it does not usually impair a person’s thinking or other cognitive abilities.  However, several recent studies suggest that a small percentage of patients may experience problems with memory or decision-making, and there is growing evidence that some may even develop a form of dementia.  The cause of ALS is not known, and scientists do not yet know why ALS strikes some people and not others.


No cure has yet been found for ALS. However, the FDA has approved the first drug treatment for the disease—riluzole.  Riluzole is believed to reduce damage to motor neurons and prolongs survival by several months, mainly in those with difficulty swallowing.  Other treatments are designed to relieve symptoms and improve the quality of life for people with ALS.  Drugs also are available to help individuals with pain, depression, sleep disturbances, and constipation.  Individuals with ALS may eventually consider forms of mechanical ventilation (respirators). 


Regardless of the part of the body first affected by the disease, muscle weakness and atrophy spread to other parts of the body as the disease progresses. Individuals have increasing problems with moving, swallowing, and speaking or forming words. Eventually people with ALS will not be able to stand or walk, get in or out of bed on their own, or use their hands and arms. In later stages of the disease, individuals have difficulty breathing as the muscles of the respiratory system weaken. Although ventilation support can ease problems with breathing and prolong survival, it does not affect the progression of ALS. Most people with ALS die from respiratory failure, usually within 3 to 5 years from the onset of symptoms. However, about 10 percent of those individuals with ALS survive for 10 or more years.


The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) conducts research in its laboratories at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and also supports additional research through grants to major medical institutions across the country. The goals of this research are to find the cause or causes of ALS, understand the mechanisms involved in the progression of the disease, and develop effective treatments.Results of an NINDS-sponsored phase III randomized, placebo-controlled trial of the drug minocycline to treat ALS were reported in 2007. This study showed that people with ALS who received minocycline had a 25 percent greater rate of decline than those who received the placebo, according to the ALS functional rating scale (ALSFRS-R).    

View a list of studies currently seeking patients.

View more studies on this condition.

Read additional information from Medline Plus.


ALS Association

Nonprofit voluntary health organization dedicated to the fight against amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Funds global research and sponsors advocacy programs, a network of chapters, and certified centers and clinics located nationwide.

1275 K Street, N.W.
Suite 250
Washington, DC 20005
Tel: 202-407-8580
Fax: 202-289-6801

Les Turner ALS Foundation

Supports medical research, patient services, and promotes awareness and education to find the cause(s), effective treatments, and ultimately, a cure for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

5550 W. Touhy Avenue
Suite 302
Skokie, IL 60077-3254
Tel: 888-ALS-1107 847-679-3311
Fax: 847-679-9109

Muscular Dystrophy Association

Voluntary health agency that fosters neuromuscular disease research and provides patient care funded almost entirely by individual private contributors. MDA addresses the muscular dystrophies, spinal muscular atrophy, ALS, Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, myasthenia gravis, Friedreich's ataxia, metabolic diseases of muscle, and inflammatory diseases of muscle, for a total of more than 40 neuromuscular diseases.

National Office - 222 S. Riverside Plaza
Suite 1500
Chicago, IL 60606
Tel: 800-572-1717
Fax: 520-529-5300

Project ALS

Not-for-profit organization that raises awareness and significant funds toward effective treatments and a cure for ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

3960 Broadway
Suite 420
New York, NY 10032
Tel: 212-420-7382 800-603-0270
Fax: 212-420-7387

ALS Therapy Development Institute

Founded in 1999, the ALS Therapy Development Foundation is dedicated to discovering and developing treatments for ALS. The organization, which focuses on a concentrated drug discovery program for ALS, has collaborated with 28 for-profit companies and academic researchers to perform advanced investigations.

300 Technology Square
Suite 400
Cambridge, MA 02139
Tel: 617-441-7200
Fax: 617-441-7299

<< Back