Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, affects the nerve cells in the spinal cord and brain. This disrupts communication between the brain and muscles. The muscles begin to move involuntarily when they do not receive proper signals, become weak, and waste away. ALS is a degenerative condition, and the affected person may not be able to control their movements while talking, eating, or walking.

Types of ALS
There are two types of ALS:

1. Sporadic ALS
It is the most common type of ALS. In this case, the affected person is the first in the family to have contracted the disease, and it is not genetic.

2. Familial ALS
Suppose more than one family member has ALS. It is highly probable that it is an inherited condition and is categorized as familial ALS.

ALS causes and risk factors
Doctors have yet to identify a cause of ALS, but with the existing data, they have managed to identify some risk factors for this rare condition. Some of them include the following:

1. Family history
Family history and heredity factors are the leading causes and risks for familial ALS.

2. Genetic mutation
Studies show that close to 40 genes are associated with ALS. A gene can change independently, or a mutated gene can pass from a parent to a child. These mutations can make trigger cell production or defective proteins. Such gene defects, such as C9ORF72, FUS, and TARDBP, can cause ALS.

3. Free radicals
Free radicals are unstable molecules with electrical charges that damage cell structure. Cells usually identify these free radicals and neutralize them. When free radicals build up, they create oxidative stress, which leads to cell damage, and consequently conditions like ALS.

4. Glutamate accumulation
Glutamate is found in the nervous system and is used by brain cells, or neurons, to send and receive signals. If there is excess glutamate in the nervous system or it is defective, it can interfere with how signals are sent and received, causing ALS.

5. Neurofilament accumulation
Neurofilaments are proteins that help cells retain their shape. They can interfere with the transportation of nutrients to the cells, causing damage and leading to ALS if they clump together near the cell.

6. Defective mitochondria
Mitochondria produce energy for motor neurons to function. They can be damaged because of aging or the presence of free radicals. Damaged mitochondria can affect cell functioning and cause ALS.

7. Defective or abnormal immune system
ALS can be caused when the immune system attacks microglia, a type of cell found in it.

8. Smoking
Smoking increases the risk of ALS in women post-menopause. It also increases oxidative stress and causes harm to motor neurons.

9. Long-term exposure to toxins
Studies show that heavy metals, such as arsenic, lead, and mercury, or long-term exposure to agricultural pesticides can damage motor neurons. Studies, though not conclusive, indicate that such exposure can trigger ALS.

Other risk factors associated with ALS include exposure to beta-methylamino-l-alanine (BMAA0), exposure to toxins, solvents, and electromagnetic fields, intense exercise, and electrical shocks and injuries.