In the medical world, there are myths surrounding almost every disease. Outdated scientific studies, misconceptions, and rumors can all mislead patients to varying degrees.
Myths are especially common when it comes to ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, the disease that destroys nerve cells controlling individuals’ muscles. As ALS progresses, symptoms go from muscle weakness to the eventual loss of mobility. (ALS is also known as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease” and motor neuron disease.)
Why are there more myths about ALS than many other diseases? One reason may be that ALS is a relatively uncommon disease. “Based on U.S. population studies, a little over 5,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with ALS each year,” reports the ALS Association. “It is estimated there are more than 20,000 Americans who have the disease at any given time.” Compare that with the nearly two million Americans who are diagnosed with cancer each year, or the 700,000 Americans who suffer a heart attack each year.
Another possible reason is that ALS isn’t yet fully understood. “No one knows for sure what causes ALS and currently there is no cure,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Advocacy efforts like the famous Ice Bucket Challenge have helped to clear up some of the myths surrounding ALS. (The Ice Bucket Challenge also raised tens of millions of dollars for research.) Still, some myths persist. In honor of ALS Awareness Month this May, we’re addressing four common misconceptions regarding this disease:
ALS and Lyme disease — which is contracted through a tick bite — share some of the same symptoms, like muscle weakness and tiredness. However, the link ends there. “Lyme disease does not cause ALS,” reports Jeffrey D. Rothstein, a neurologist and professor at Johns Hopkins University, and the director of the university’s Brain Science Institute, ALS clinic and Robert Packard Center for ALS Research. “A neurologist can easily separate ALS from Lyme infections, either clinically or with testing.” ALS isn’t caused by other infections, either, and it isn’t contagious: “There is no reliable data to suggest that ALS is started by an infection or transmitted by patients to others,” continues Rothstein.
It is true that ALS is more common in older people: “Most people who develop ALS are between the ages of 40 and 70, with an average age of 55 at the time of diagnosis,” says the ALS Association. However, younger people are not immune: “Cases of the disease do occur in persons in their twenties and thirties,” the ALS Association continues. The physicist Stephen Hawking, one of the most high-profile people to suffer from ALS, was diagnosed with the disease when he was just 21.
There currently is no cure for ALS, but that doesn’t mean scientists aren’t working to uncover one. Currently, there is only one drug approved for treating the disease — as a result, some people assume the disease isn’t receiving the attention it deserves, notes Rothstein. However, that’s not the case: “There has been a significant increase in the number of pharmaceutical companies that are interested in ALS and have the right experience to carry out research and clinical trials,” Rothstein adds.
Unlike many other diseases, “no one test can provide a definitive diagnosis of ALS,” according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The NIH continues: “ALS is primarily diagnosed based on detailed history of the symptoms and signs observed by a physician during physical examination, along with a series of tests to rule out other mimicking diseases.” ALS can be an expensive disease to treat. “There can be significant costs for medical care, equipment and home health caregiving later in the disease,” reports the ALS Association. As you or a loved one undergoes treatment for ALS or another advanced-stage illness, Fifth Season Financial is here to help ease the financial burden. Our Funds for Living Program provides clients with an advance on their life insurance policy while preserving funds for beneficiaries to receive in the future. To learn more about the program, contact us today.
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