Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS – The Fact
- ALS is not contagious.
- It is estimated that ALS was responsible for nearly two deaths per hundred thousand population annually.
- Approximately 5,600 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with ALS every year. The incidence of ALS is two per 300,000 people, and it is estimated that as many as 50,000 Americans have the disease at any given time.
- Although the life expectancy of an ALS patient averages about two to five years from the time of diagnosis, this kind of disease is variable and many people live with quality for five years and more. More than half of all patients live more than three years after diagnosis.
- About twenty percent of people with ALS live five years or more and up to ten percent will survive more than ten years and five percent will live 20 years. There are some people in whom ALS has stopped progressing and a small number of people in whom the symptoms of ALS reversed.
- ALS occurs throughout the whole world with no racial, ethnic or socioeconomic boundaries.
- ALS can strike anyone.
- The onset of ALS is insidious with muscle weakness or stiffness as early symptoms. Progression of wasting, weakness and paralysis of the muscles of the limbs and trunk as well as those that control vital functions such as speech, swallowing and breathing generally follows.
- There can be significant costs for medical care, medical equipment and home health caregiving later in the disease. It is important to be knowledgeable about your health plan coverage and other programs for which your may be eligible, including Medicare, SSA, Medical and Veteran Affairs benefits.
- Riluzole, the first treatment to alter the course of ALS, was been approved by the FDA in late 1995. The anti-glutamate drug has shown scientifically to prolong the life of persons with ALS by at least a few months. The more recent studies suggest Riluzole slows the progress of ALS, This shows the patient more time in the higher functioning states when their function is less affected by ALS. Many private health plans cover the cost of Riluzole.
Reports from three separate patient databases described long range experience with Riluzole. All reports suggest a trend of increasing survival with Riluzole over time. More studies that are double blind and controlled are needed to confirm these database observations. The trend appears to indicate that longer periods of time than those used in the Riluzole clinical trials may be needed to see the long-term survival advantage of the drug. An interesting observation was that despite the fact that the Irish government provides Riluzole free of charge to people in Ireland with ALS, only two-thirds of the patients registered in the Ireland national ALS database reported taking Riluzole.