ALS ... Claims Catfish Hunter

Jim "Catfish" Hunter, the Hall of Fame hurler who helped the Oakland A's and the New York Yankees win six pennants in the 1970's, pitched a perfect game and was part of an economic revolution in sports as the first big-money free agent, died on Sept. 9, 1999 at his home at Hertford, North Carolina of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

ALS is a classic motor neuron disease. Motor neuron diseases are progressive chronic diseases of the nerves that come from the spinal cord responsible for supplying electrical stimulation to the muscles. This stimulation is necessary for the movement of body parts.

Lou Gehrig's Disease

Since amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is quite a mouthful, it is often referred to as ALS. It is also called "Lou Gehrig's disease" after the teammate of Babe Ruth who developed it and died from it. The movie "Pride of the Yankees" starring Gary Cooper, told Gehrig's tragic and triumphant life story.

ALS tends to strike in mid-life, most often in the fifth through seventh decades of life. Men are about one-and-a-half times more likely to have the disease than women. It is estimated to affect about 20,000 Americans. There are about 5,000 new cases in the United States every year.

The disease process occurs when specific nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that control voluntary movement gradually degenerate. The loss of these motor neurons causes the muscles under their control to weaken and waste away, leading to paralysis. The cause of this disease process is still unknown.

ALS manifests itself in many different ways, depending on which muscles weaken first. Symptoms may include tripping and falling, loss of motor control in hands and arms, difficulty speaking, swallowing and/or breathing, persistent fatigue, and twitching and cramping.

No Cure for ALS

There is no cure for ALS; nor is there a proven therapy that will prevent or reverse the course of the disorder. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved riluzole (RILUTEK), the first drug that has been shown to prolong the survival of ALS patients. Patients may also receive supportive treatments that address some of their symptoms.

The prognosis (outlook) with ALS is grim. This is a progressive deadly disease. The usual causes of death of patients with motor neuron diseases are not directly related to the disease, but result from simultaneous additional illnesses which ultimately occur because of the weakness of the body. These illnesses are often infections. Death usually supervenes within 5 years of an ALS diagnosis.

Information: Please visit MedicineNet.com's Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Forum for more information about ALS.


Last Editorial Review: 7/7/2004