ALS tends to develop in middle age, though there are some factors that may increase the risk of early onset.

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a rare degenerative condition that affects your motor neurons.

This condition is sometimes called Lou Gehrig’s disease, named after Lou Gehrig, a first baseman for the New York Yankees who famously developed the condition in 1939. At 36, Lou Gehrig was nearly two decades younger than the majority of people first diagnosed with ALS.

Although medical professionals today know more about ALS than those in 1939, there’s still a lot to learn. We don’t know what causes ALS in over 90% of cases, and there’s still no cure for this condition.

ALS can occur at any time, but most people are diagnosed when they’re between 40 and 70 years old. The average age at diagnosis is 55.

Generally, people with familial ALS (ALS that runs in their families) develop ALS symptoms earlier than people with sporadic ALS. Familial ALS is often diagnosed when people are in their late 40s or early 50s.

Sporadic ALS is often diagnosed in people in their late 50s or early 60s. Sporadic ALS is ALS that develops in a person who doesn’t have a family member with ALS. About 90% of all people with ALS have sporadic ALS.

ALS is more common in men than it is in women, but this only applies to younger people. After menopause, the risk of ALS becomes about equal.

Average age for ALS diagnosesAverage age for familial ALS diagnosesAverage age for sporadic ALS diagnoses
55Late 40s through early 50sLate 50s through early 60s

Can ALS be stopped early?

There are no treatments that can stop, reverse, or cure ALS. At this time, available treatments are only able to help manage symptoms and improve quality of life. ALS is progressive and fatal.

Treatments and supportive care can slow down decline and can alleviate painful symptoms. Care teams can put together an individualized plan to provide services such as specialized equipment, speech and occupational therapies, meal planning, mental health care, and more to help people with ALS and their loved ones.

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About 5% to 10% of all ALS are inherited. This is called familial ALS. In these families, ALS is passed down on specific genes. Researchers have identified more than a dozen of these inheritable gene mutations that can cause ALS.

There isn’t a known cause or way to predict other cases of ALS. Even if you have a family member that develops sporadic ALS, your chances of developing ALS are still very low. However, there are a few known risk factors for ALS. These include:

  • Sex: Males are more likely to be diagnosed with ALS than females when they’re young, but this difference evens out as people age.
  • Ethnicity: Although people of any ethnic background can develop ALS, it’s most common among people with a European heritage.
  • Military service: Some studies suggest that Veterans have a higher risk of ALS than the general population. The exact reasons for this are unknown. It might be due to exposure to environmental factors such as toxins and pesticides.

ALS is a degenerative condition that causes motor neurons to die. When your motor neurons die, your brain has difficulty spending signals to your muscles. Eventually, this leads to a total loss of muscle control and to muscle wasting.

Early signs and symptoms are more minor and include:

Get involved in clinical research for ALS

Research to find better treatments for ALS is ongoing. You can talk with your doctor if you’d like to take part in clinical trials to help find ways to slow down, reverse, or even cure ALS. They can let you know whether they think participating is safe for you.

If they agree, you can get started by visiting The National Institutes of Health (NIH) Clinical Center site. NIH conducts trials for treatments of neurological conditions, such as ALS. On their site, you’ll find a wealth of resources and a search tool that will allow you to look for upcoming ALS trials.

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Although ALS can develop at any time, most people are diagnosed after they turn 40. The average age of diagnosis is 55.

ALS sometimes runs in families, but this makes up only about 5% to 10% of all ALS cases diagnosed in the United States. The majority of people with ALS have what’s called sporadic ALS. This means there isn’t a known cause.

While some factors, such as military service and gender, can slightly increase the risk, there’s no way to predict sporadic ALS.

Currently, there’s no cure for ALS. Treatments can help alleviate symptoms, but they can’t reverse or stop the progression of ALS.