Like many social media campaigns that go viral, you can’t seem to get away from the one to raise awareness for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, referred to as the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge (#ALSIceBucketChallenge). Taking over Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram feeds, short videos have flooded the internet showing everyone from celebrities and fashion magazine editors to former politicians and CEOs getting a bucket of ice water dumped over their heads.
And the campaign has been a huge, if unexpected, success—having raised both awareness and funds for organizations seeking a cure for this disease. This year alone, almost $90 million has been donated by end of August 2014 (compared to less than $3 million by the same time a year earlier).
According to the Robert Packard Center For ALS research at Johns Hopkins, ALS–commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease–is a neuromuscular illness that develops progressively. In ALS, there’s a gradual, continuing degeneration of motor nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. When motor neurons can no longer send impulses to muscles, they begin to atrophy, causing increased muscle weakness and paralysis.
The center lists possible ALS symptoms, including:
- Twitching and cramping of muscles, especially those in the hands and feet
- Loss of motor control in the hands and arms
- Impaired use of the arms and legs
- Weakness and fatigue
- Tripping and falling
- Dropping things
- Uncontrollable periods of laughing or crying
- Slurred or thick speech and difficulty in projecting the voice
Because these symptoms are not unique to those with ALS, if they occur, it’s important to consult a neurologist for diagnosis, preferably one with a neuromuscular specialty.
Just as there’s no known cure for the disease, neither is there a clear understanding of what causes the disease: ALS occurs rarely (roughly 2 people per 100,000 per year) and spontaneously. In fact, with the exception of strongly genetic forms of the disease, the cause of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis unknown. In addition, research has yet to determine how ALS starts in the body. While there is currently no cure, the survival rate is two years after diagnosis for 50 percent of patients, five years or more for 20 percent, with 10 percent of patients surviving 10 years or more. Hopefully with this year’s windfall of donations, more progress can be made in finding a cure.