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NEWSLETTER

Can ALS be caused by traumatic brain injury?


One of the most common neurologic diseases is Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS, or Lou Gehrig's Disease), which damages nerve cells in your spinal cord as well as your brain, leading to muscular atrophy and weakening. It usually begins between the ages of 55 and 75 without notice. A person's ability to move, speak, eat, or breathe will be severely compromised as their ALS disease advances. Death usually occurs within three to five years of diagnosis, despite the fact that two FDA-approved treatments can modestly reduce its progression.

Despite decades of investigation, no definitive cause has been identified. In spite of this, a new study has found a correlation between ALS and professional football.

Why is Lou Gehrig's disease referred to as ALS?

Much about ALS has remained a mystery since its discovery in the late 1800s. It is extremely rare, affecting only two persons in every 100,000. If it weren't for Lou Gehrig, the Hall of Fame baseball player who played for the New York Yankees in the 1920s and 1930s, you wouldn't have heard about this condition. At the age of 36, he was diagnosed with ALS and died two years later. The condition is now commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease in honour of Lou Gehrig.

The Ice Bucket Challenge and other widely publicized social media efforts have done much to increase interest in and support for ALS research in recent years.

Trying to find out what causes ALS

According to several studies, the following may increase your risk of developing ALS:

One out of every ten cases can be attributed to genetics.

One study has shown that heavy smokers are 26 per cent more likely to acquire Lou Gehrig's disease.

Inhalation of pesticides, such as those applied to crops.


A physical injury is serious enough to limit one's ability to go about one's everyday routines.

Physically demanding jobs, such as those performed by professional sports or members of the military.

Injuries to the head, including concussions and more minor head trauma.

While head injuries have been linked to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), the function they play in the development of ALS is less clear.

ALS has been linked to professional football, according to a new study.

Some occurrences of ALS may be explained by a new study published in JAMA Network Open. Playing professional football may be a risk factor for developing the condition, according to the findings.

In the National Football League (NFL) from 1960 to 2019, 19,423 men participated (NFL). A total of 38 people were diagnosed with ALS during that time period, and a total of 28 people succumbed to the condition.

The chance of having ALS and dying from the disease was roughly four times higher among these present and past football players than among men in the general population.
The average football career of NFL players with ALS was seven years longer than that of those without the disease (4.5 years).

At the time of their ALS diagnosis, several NFL players were in their 30s. This is a lot younger than the average age of onset for ALS.

How reliable are these conclusions?

This was purely a case study based on direct observation. To determine whether or if an individual's participation in the NFL is associated with a certain ailment, researchers can do an observational study (ALS). It does not, however, prove that the risk factor was the cause of the illness.

A confounder, a component that wasn't explored or accounted for, could explain the correlation in research like this. As an illustration, no data were gathered on head traumas, pesticide exposure, smoking, or family history in this study at all. This means that it cannot tell us if these factors played a role in the development of ALS.

In addition, only obituaries and Google News articles were used to find diagnoses of ALS in NFL players. A study of the athletes' medical records failed to corroborate the diagnoses. As a result, ALS patients may have been overlooked or misdiagnosed.

Perhaps the study missed ALS cases among less well-known players, whose health issues or fatalities might not be covered by the media. The researchers logged markers of NFL stardom to explain this (including selection to the NFL Pro Bowl and Hall of Fame). Players with and without a greater level of fame were shown to have the same ALS risk.

However, the authors of this study failed to investigate if playing professional football may increase one's risk of developing ALS. According to the authors of the study, traumatic brain injury may be to blame.

In conclusion

Trying to figure out which sports have a negative impact on brain health is a top priority for researchers and public health specialists alike. In the past few decades, experts' suggestions for contact sports have evolved to include the use of protective equipment, revisions in-game rules and restrictions on the participation of younger players.

Studies have shown a substantial connection between brain impairment from repeated head trauma and concussions, as previously stated. Brain trauma may be a factor in some cases of ALS, according to a new study.

Over the course of his sporting career, Lou Gehrig is said to have suffered numerous concussions. The potential that Lou Gehrig's death was caused by traumatic brain injury has been raised by this new research, regardless of whether or not he had Lou Gehrig's disease or CTE with ALS signs. Even as we applaud individuals who display great athletic ability and a will to win at any cost, it is critical that the health of people who participate in sports be protected even more.

Disclaimer:

No content on this site, regardless of date, should be used to replace direct medical advice from your doctor or another trained practitioner.
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