About ALS

MDA is proud to be the world leader in the fight against ALS. MDA has dedicated $324 million to ALS research, services and information programs since its inception in 1950.

MDA has robust programs, including an unparalleled services program and a worldwide research program. The cornerstone of MDA’s services program is a nationwide network of 200 medical clinics, 43 of which are designated as MDA/ALS centers. MDA is currently funding 63 active ALS research projects, with a total multiyear sum of more than $20 million. MDA’s support of ALS research and services programs surpasses the combined efforts of all other nonprofit voluntary health agencies dedicated to ALS.

    Quick Facts About ALS:

  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) destroys the nerve cells that control muscle movement, causing muscles to become weak and then paralyzed. ALS affects all skeletal muscles, including those used for breathing and swallowing.
  • The word “amyotrophic” comes from Greek roots that mean “without nourishment to muscles” and refers to the loss of signals nerve cells normally send to muscle cells. “Lateral” means “to the side” and refers to the location of the damage in the spinal cord. “Sclerosis” means “hardened” and refers to the hardened nature of the spinal cord in advanced ALS.
  • In the United States, ALS also is called Lou Gehrig’s disease, named for the Yankees baseball player who died of it in 1941. In Britain and elsewhere in the world, ALS is often called motor neurone disease in reference to the cells (motor neurons) that are lost in this disorder.
  • About 30,000 Americans are currently living with ALS.
  • An estimated 15 people are diagnosed with ALS each day.
  • The cause of ALS is generally unknown. Although genetic factors may play a role, only 5 to 10 percent of cases are clearly inherited, showing a family history. The vast majority of ALS is sporadic, meaning the disease occurs with no known family history.
  • Symptoms usually begin in late middle age, but can start in young adulthood, old age and, very rarely, in childhood. Men are slightly more likely to develop ALS than are women.
  • Death, usually from respiratory complications, typically comes between three and five years after diagnosis. About 10 percent of those with the disease live more than 10 years, and some survive for decades.
  • Until a definitive treatment or cure is found for ALS, MDA's clinics and ALS centers use a team approach to medical care that mobilizes a variety of health care professionals, all of whom aim to alleviate symptoms, maintain function and independence, prolong life and offer guidance for those living with the disorder.
  • MDA’s involvement with ALS began in the early 1950s when Eleanor Gehrig, widow of beloved Yankee’s first baseman Lou Gehrig, was searching for a way to fight the disease that had taken her husband’s life. Mrs. Gehrig served more than a decade as MDA National Campaign Chairman.