ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. With ALS disease, motor neurons degenerate progressively, leading to cell death. Over time, this degeneration of motor neurons affects the brain's ability to initiate and control muscle movement, including a person's ability to speak, eat, move, and breathe. While ALS can affect anyone, anywhere (Sporadic ALS), the disease can also be inherited (Familial ALS).
A-myo-trophic comes from the Greek language. "A" means no. "Myo" refers to muscle, and "Trophic" means nourishment – "No muscle nourishment." When a muscle has no nourishment, it "atrophies" or wastes away. "Lateral" identifies the areas in a person's spinal cord where portions of the nerve cells that signal and control the muscles are located. As this area degenerates it leads to scarring or hardening ("sclerosis") in the region.
Based on U.S. population studies, a little over 5,600 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with ALS each year. (That's 15 new cases a day.) It is estimated that as many as 30,000 Americans have the disease at any given time.
Individuals with bulbar ALS may also experience difficulty chewing and swallowing (dysphagia). Initially, hard/solid food consistencies are difficult to manage, but over time it becomes difficult for the individual to swallow even pureed foods and saliva.