Myths about ALS

Myth 1: ALS is an "old-people" disease

Absolutely not! While ALS often does strike people 50 and older, there are plenty of younger people with the disease. The median age for the disease is 54. 

Myth 2: ALS is contagious

ALS is not an infection and is not caused by infections or other bacteria. See Myth 3 for more.

Myth 3: ALS is caused by Lyme disease or other infections

ALS is not caused by any type of other disease or infection. This common misconception is due to the fact that some ALS symptoms, such as fatigue, muscle weakness and muscle twitches, are also symptoms of other disease. Thus, the disease is commonly misdiagnosed at first. From Dr. Jeffrey Rothstein via the Washington Post

"Unlike ALS, Lyme is usually treatable with antibiotics. Lyme disease does not cause ALS, and generally in a diagnostic workup, a neurologist can easily separate ALS from Lyme infections, either clinically or with testing. There is no reliable data to suggest that ALS is started by an infection or transmitted by patients to others."

Myth 4: ALS is discriminatory

ALS can affect people of all races and ethnicities.

Myth 5: Stephen Hawking doesn't have ALS

Stephen Hawking does have ALS, as the disease progresses in each person differently. Scientists aren't quite sure how he has lived so long, but there are two possibilities:

  1. Developing the disease at a young age (he was diagnosed at 21) causes it to progress slower
  2. The motor neurons running his diaphragm (breathing muscles) and the motor neurons along his swallowing muscles have not deteriorated

You can read more about Stephen Hawking and ALS from the Washington Post here and from Scientific American here.

Myth 6: ALS affects only motor activity

From Dr. Jeffrey Rothstein via the Washington Post:

"This is a long-standing myth held by physicians and patients: that ALS patients’ minds remain sharp as their bodies deteriorate. But newer studies show that about 20 to 30 percent of patients develop a mild cognitive impairment, while a very small number, about 5 to 10 percent, get severe dementia."

Myth 7: ALS is caused by sports

While there appear to be links to playing sports professionally and having ALS, there are no studies that prove this. Additionally, most people with ALS are not professional athletes.