Unless you live under a rock, you've heard of the ALS ice bucket challenge. It's clogging your Facebook newsfeed, interrupting everyone complaining about their day or posting pictures of what they're eating. This is precisely why I love it! As of today, August 19th, the ALS foundation has raised $22.9 million between July 29th-Aug. 19th. This compared to $1.9 million during the same time period last year. The amount of awareness this little challenge has brought to such a worthy cause is unprecedented and undeniable. But what is ALS? If you haven't been touched personally by the disease you may have never heard of it.
warning a bunch of nerdy words coming next but I will try to make it as comprehendible as possible
Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis a.k.a Lou Gehrig's Disease
Amyotrophic describes the course of the disease, strictly translated into "no muscle nourishment." Lateral describes the area in the spinal cord where motor neurons live, and sclerosis describes the degenerative process that takes place.
The human body has many different types of nerves that specialize in different sensation or action. The nerves involved with ALS live in the lateral part of the spinal cord and specifically control voluntary muscle action. The includes all movement your doing now, from your eyes scrolling the page and your hand using your phone. As ALS progresses these motor neurons no longer get signals from the brain and eventually die rendering them and the muscles they innervate useless. A person stricken with the disease will look thinner as the muscles atrophy (get smaller) due to disuse. Early symptoms of the disease vary on a patient by patient basis but often include muscle weakness or twitching. For example, some first notice frequently tripping or difficulty picking up a child. Impairment with speaking and difficulty projecting the voice often follows, while swallowing and breathing become more strenuous at a later stage. The disease can progress to total paralysis.
- ALS is not contagious
- average life expectancy is 2-5 years after diagnosis
- an estimated 30,000 americans currently have the disease
Currently, the medical treatment is a drug called Riuzole. The drug was shown in research to slow the progression of the disease and prolong a higher level of function by at least a few months but no cure exists, making this funding that much more important. Keep raising awareness and donating incessantly while dumping buckets of ice on your head, whatever gets you fired up to help those in need.