The onset of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is more common in adults over the age of 40 years. However, ALS may also occur in people in their 20s or 30s.

ALS is a rare progressive neurodegenerative disease. ALS affects the motor neurons responsible for the movement of the voluntary muscles in the human body. Currently, there is no cure for ALS. This condition can develop in people of any age, but it is more common in older adults.

ALS causes progressive damage to the motor neurons, leading to their death. When motor neuron death occurs, the brain loses its ability to control the movement of muscles. This may cause muscle atrophy and, eventually, muscle wastage.

This article will review ALS, the typical age of onset, risk factors, causes, treatment, and when a person should contact a doctor.

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ALS can occur in adults of any age. This condition is more common in people between 40 and 70 years old, and the average age at diagnosis is 55 years old. However, younger adults in their 20s and 30s may still develop ALS, even if they have a lower risk.

Who gets it?

ALS is more common in people assigned male at birth and in Caucasians and non-Hispanic people. However, ALS may occur in people of any sex and ethnicity.

As people age, the risk of the onset of ALS for people assigned male at birth and people assigned female at birth becomes similar.

Learn more about ALS.

The early symptoms of ALS may include:

  • muscle stiffness
  • muscle cramps
  • muscle tightness
  • muscle weakness, including neck, arms, legs, or diaphragm
  • nasal and slurred speech
  • muscle twitching in the legs, shoulders, arms, or tongue
  • difficulty chewing and swallowing

People with ALS may not experience all these symptoms at the same time, but only a few of them may occur during the early stages of the disease.

Learn more about the symptoms of ALS.

If a person experiences any early symptoms of ALS, they may consider contacting a doctor. Healthcare professionals can diagnose the cause of symptoms by performing relevant tests for ALS and other possible conditions that may be causing discomfort.

Doctors can also recommend the most appropriate treatment for ALS and discuss the possible trials available for this condition.

People between 40 and 70 years old have a higher risk of developing ALS. The onset of this condition is also about 20% more common in people assigned male at birth.

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, about 90% of cases of ALS do not have links to any family history of this disease, and about 5–10% of cases are due to a genetic modification that people can inherit from their biological parents.

While ALS can occur in people of any ethnic background, Caucasians and non-Hispanic people have a higher risk of developing this neurodegenerative disease.

Military veterans may also have a higher risk of developing ALS when compared with the general public. While the reason is currently unknown, possible contributing factors include exposure to lead, pesticides, and other toxins in the environment.

Additionally, sustaining a nerve injury may increase the risk of ALS. A 2020 study may have found a link between nerve injury and the onset of ALS. This could also explain why veterans and athletes have an increased risk of ALS.

Smoking may also increase the risk of the onset of ALS.

Currently, there is no cure available for ALS. However, treatment may help reduce the speed of the disease’s progression and manage the symptoms it may cause. The treatment for ALS may include:

  • physical, occupational, speech, and respiratory treatment with a therapist
  • oral and intravenous medications to slow down ALS progress
  • lifestyle and nutritional changes to support people with difficulties swallowing
  • breathing support with ventilators
  • medications to treat muscle stiffness and the other symptoms of ALS

Riluzole is an oral medication that may reduce the degeneration of motor neurons by decreasing the levels of glutamate. This medication is also available in the form of a thick liquid, allowing people with swallowing difficulties to take their medication more easily.

Edaravone is a medication for ALS. Doctors give edaravone intravenously. This medication may help slow down the progression of the disease.

Learn more about medications for ALS.

Currently, there is no cure for ALS, and there is no effective treatment to induce the remission of this condition. The progression of ALS makes the brain unable to control the movement of muscles. People may also require a ventilator during the last stages of the disease due to their inability to breathe autonomously.

The rate at which ALS progresses varies for every person. While some people with this condition may experience a rapid progression, other people may survive for many years. The 5-year survival rate of people with ALS is about 20%. Approximately 10% of people may survive for 10 years, and about 5% for more than 20 years.

ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that gradually causes the death of motor neurons. This makes the brain unable to control the movement of voluntary muscles over time, which causes their atrophy and wasting.

Adults between 40 and 70 years old have a higher risk of developing ALS. However, this condition may occur at any point during adulthood. People assigned male at birth typically have a higher risk of ALS than people assigned female at birth.

In most cases, ALS occurs in people without a family history of this condition. Only about 5–10% of people with ALS develop this neurodegenerative disease due to inheriting a gene mutation from their biological parents.