ALS in athletes: Are head injuries to blame?

When Dwight Clark revealed that he had been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), he said he didn’t know for sure if his eight years spent in the NFL influenced his chances of developing the neurological condition, but that he suspects it did. Science has the same suspicions.  

ALS, also commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease after it ended the career of one of baseball’s most iconic figures, is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. Gradual, painless, progressive muscle weakness is the most common symptom of ALS, with other early indicators manifesting as unsteady gait, muscle cramps, twitches, slurred speech or uncontrollable periods of laughing or crying, according to the ALS Association.

It’s estimated that as many as 20,000 Americans are living with ALS, and men comprise 60 percent of the patient population. The majority of patients who develop ALS are between 40 and 70, with the average person living only two to five years after being diagnosed.

Only 10 percent of cases are considered familial ALS, in which more than one person in the family has the disorder, while 90 percent of the cases are considered sporadic. The disparity, along with the amount of instances among former NFL players, has caused researchers to wonder if repeated head trauma or traumatic brain injury could increase a patient’s risk for developing the fatal disorder.

“It’s difficult to give a precise answer,” Dr. Barry Boden, a surgeon at The Orthopedic Center, a division of Centers for Advanced Orthopaedics, and a team physician for athletes at Montgomery College, told Fox News….

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