Lou Gehrig's Disease: ALS Life Expectancy

What You Should Know About Lou Gehrig's Disease and Longevity

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If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also called Lou Gehrig's disease, you probably have some questions about the prognosis for the disease. Here is what you should know about how ALS typically impacts life expectancy and what can be done to increase longevity.

What Is ALS?

ALS is a neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord.

It is a progressive disease that affects the motor neurons reaching from the brain to the spinal cord, which controls muscles throughout the body. Over time, the brain loses its ability to control muscle movement due to the death of these motor neurons.

ALS Life Expectancy

The average life expectancy of a person with ALS is two to five years from the time of diagnosis. However, it varies greatly:

  • Over 50 percent of people with ALS live more than three years.
  • Twenty percent live five years or more.
  • Ten percent live 10 or more years.
  • Five percent will live more than 20 years.

Ways to Increase Life Expectancy

While there is no cure for ALS and way to stop the progression of the disease completely, there are some things you can do to improve life expectancy. These include:

  • Medication: Currently, Riluzole is the only drug FDA-approved for ALS. It has been shown in randomized double-blinded clinical trials to prolong life expectancy for approximately two to three months, although other, less rigorous studies have shown the drug to have a slightly greater effect. In addition, other drugs are used for symptom management that can help improve the quality of life and prolong functioning.
  • Noninvasive Ventilation: The use of noninvasive ventilation (NEV) was shown to prolong survival between seven and 11 months, depending on how long it was used each day and different patient characteristics. The primary mode of NEV is positive-pressure ventilation, which is basically breathing through a mask that fits over the mouth and nose.
  • Percutaneous Endoscopic Gastronomy (PEG): This means that a tube is placed into the stomach which leads out of the body through the abdominal wall. Although studies have failed to show the consistent impact on survival time, the American Academy of Neurology recommends that PEG is used for people with ALS to keep body weight stable. Different doctors have different ideas on when the best time to do a PEG procedure and begin feeding this way.

If you or a loved one has ALS educating yourself on treatment and care options can be very helpful for understanding a very difficult and complicated diagnosis. Talk to your doctor about what you can do to live more comfortably or help a loved one live more comfortably, for as long as possible. For additional information about ALS, read these other helpful articles:

6 Questions Answered About Lou Gehrig's Disease (ALS)

ALS and MS Symptoms: The Differences

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS): A Progressive Neurological Disorder

An Introduction to Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis

How Stephen Hawking Manages His Disabilities From Lou Gehrig's Disease

Is it MS or ALS? The Differences Between the Symptoms


"Facts You Should Know About ALS." Website of the ALS Association. Accessed: October 2010.

Miller RG, et. al. Practice Parameter update: The care of the patient with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis: Drug, nutritional and respiratory therapies (an evidence-based review): Report of the Quality Standards Subcommittee of the American Academy of Neurology. Neurology 2009;73;1218-1226.

The ALS Association. (n.d.). What is ALS? Retrieved March 14, 2016.

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