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Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease, is a motor neuron disease that occurs in middle or late life and affects the central nervous system. It is the result of a progressive degeneration of the nerve cells that control voluntary motor functions (muscular movements). There is no cure for Lou Gehrig's disease. A patient usually dies three to ten years after its onset.
In the initial stages of the disease, the person notices weakness in the hands and arms, with involuntary muscle quivering and possible muscle cramping or stiffness. Eventually all four extremities become affected. Nerve degeneration progresses, resulting in a gradual decline in physical independence. In the final stage of this disease the patient, though mentally and intellectually aware, can no longer swallow or move.
Sources: American Medical Association Encyclopedia of Medicine, p. 696; Columbia University of Physicians and Surgeons, Complete Home Medical Guide, p. 599.
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