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Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a progressive and usually fatal motor neuron disease affecting an estimated 20,000 people in the United States at any given time. It causes the degeneration of nerve cells that control voluntary muscle movement, leading to muscle wasting and weakness. As the disease progresses, paralysis and the inability to speak or swallow can result, while sensory functions such as touch recognition and taste generally remain unaffected.

Did You Know?

In Massachusetts residents, between 2007 and 2011, there were 826 newly diagnosed cases of ALS.

ALS is about 20 percent more common in males than in females.

ALS usually affects individuals between the ages of 40 and 70, although cases can occur in younger individuals.

The exact cause of the disease is not yet fully understood. Aside from the 5-10% of cases with a family history of ALS, most are sporadic with no clearly-associated risk factors. Researchers have been studying many factors and combinations of factors that could be linked to ALS onset, including genetics, diet, injury, and environmental exposures such as lead, mercury, and cyanobacteria.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health/ Bureau of Climate and Environmental Health started the Argeo Paul Cellucci ALS Registry to establish incidence and prevalence of ALS in the state. Yearly reports of patients treated and/or diagnosed with ALS are collected from physicians, hospitals, and clinics. Using this data, we can document demographic and geographic patterns, as well as explore whether environmental concerns may have an impact on rates of the disease. For additional information, please go to the ALS Registry.

  • In the US, about 5,600 individuals are diagnosed with ALS each year.
  • The annual incidence is approximately 2 per 100,000 people, and the annual prevalence is estimated at 4 to 6 cases per 100,000.
  • ALS is responsible for nearly two deaths per one hundred thousand people annually.
Available Data on ALS

Users will soon be able to click an “Explore Data” link on this page to access annual data on ALS in your community. In the meantime, the latest ALS Data Brief is available on the ALS Registry website, along with additional information about the Registry and its procedures. Be sure to check the site periodically — new data are added each year. To protect privacy, no information is shown that could identify an individual.

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