The “Ice Bucket Challenge” has been all over social media lately. Basically, the idea is that participants in the challenge film themselves getting doused in ice water in support of the ALS Association. Participants nominate friends and family to either complete the ice bucket challenge as well, or to donate to the ALS Association (most people are expected to donate around $100).

With all of the attention and donations that the ALSA has been getting (the organization has so far raised $88.5 million), many people still aren’t sure what ALS is. The point of the challenge is to raise awareness of the disease and to raise money to fight it, but not everyone is as informed as they could be. So consider this your comprehensive guide to all things ALS and educate yourself a little bit before participating in that bucket challenge.

Who gets ALS?

1. ALS stands for Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

It is also known as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease,” as American baseball player Lou Gehrig was diagnosed with the disease in his mid-30s, thus ending his career with the Yankees. ALS is what is known as a motor neuron disease.

2. Genetics is a risk factor.

According to the Mayo Clinic, between 5-10 % of people with the disease inherited it from a parent. Children of people with ALS have approximately a 50/50 chance of getting the disease.

3. Smoking is also a factor.

Smokers have a greater chance of getting the disease than nonsmokers. The longer the smoker has been smoking, the greater the chance of getting ALS. Quitting can reduce these chances.

4. Middle age is when most are diagnosed.

Most people diagnosed with ALS are between the ages of 40 and 60.

What is ALS?

5. ALS causes nerve cells to die.

Nerve cells in ALS sufferers break down and eventually die, which leads to extreme difficulty in controlling muscle movement.

6. It starts with twitching.

In many ALS patients, the first signs of the disease are twitching in the arms and legs. Weakness in the limbs is also a possible sign of the disease.

7. It eventually leads to bigger problems.

After diagnosis, most people only live for around 2-5 years, according to the ALS Association. People with ALS eventually have difficulty doing many basic tasks and struggle with speech. Near the end, people with ALS cannot swallow, and eventually, cannot breathe.

8. It is not contagious.

No one with ALS can give it to anyone else. This is good news for family members or friends who wish to keep their loved ones with ALS at home for as long as possible. Many family members take on the role of caregiver, and with no risk of contagion that is easier to do.

9. ALS is terminal and there is no cure.

People diagnosed with ALS die from the disease, and so far there is no cure. The ALS Association uses the money donated to research the disease, as well as provide care for people and families who are currently coping with the disease.

What is it like to have ALS?

10. Muscle weakness.

Picking up objects and doing what most of us might consider to be simple tasks like brushing our teeth become very difficult. One woman whose husband has ALS describes picking up a fork as being like picking up a 10 lb. weight again and again.

11. Fatigue.

One symptom of ALS is extreme fatigue, including excessive yawning.

12. Pain.

ALS makes it hard to move when uncomfortable, and the muscles that waste away are no longer stimulated. Even turning over in bed may not be possible.

13. Paralysis.

Eventually, the disease leads to paralysis. Imagine not being able to move any part of your body but your eyes, and you’ve got a glimpse into what paralysis must feel like.

Can ALS be prevented?

14. Not smoking.

Nonsmokers have a lesser chance of getting the disease, as mentioned above. If you’re a smoker, quitting reduces your odds.

15. Eating brightly colored fruits and veggies.

There is some evidence that eating brightly colored fruits and veggies (especially those that are red, orange, and yellow) can help prevent the disease.

What can I do?

16. Ice bucket challenge.

The ice bucket challenge has raised tons of awareness and money for the ALS Association. If you’re inspired to participate, please do! Nominate your friends and family and challenge them to continue raising awareness.

17. Donate money.

If you don’t want to dump ice water on your head, consider just making a donation at alsa.org. Any donation, no matter how small, will make a difference.

18. Raise awareness.

Share this post and any other information with your friends and family on social media to help spread the word and educate people about ALS.

19. Hold a fundraiser.

If you want to raise more money than you could donate on your own, consider holding a fundraiser at your school, church, or community center.

Featured photo credit: University of Central Arkansas via flickr.com

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