Your Monthly Check-Up: Did you do the Ice Bucket Challenge?

By now everyone has seen at least one person on Facebook or other social media sites dumping a bucket of ice cold water on his or her head. Perhaps you’ve done it yourself (several Hinda staffers have!). The Ice Bucket Challenge is soaking the nation all in the name of raising awareness about ALS.

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is often referred to as Lou Gehrig's disease after the famous New York Yankee first baseman who died of complications from ALS in 1941. While the origins of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge are unclear, the goal of raising awareness – and donations – aligns with other cold water challenges and polar plunges made popular by various charitable organizations.

According to the ALS Association, ALS is

a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. Motor neurons reach from the brain to the spinal cord and from the spinal cord to the muscles throughout the body. The progressive degeneration of the motor neurons in ALS eventually leads to their death. When the motor neurons die, the ability of the brain to initiate and control muscle movement is lost. With voluntary muscle action progressively affected, patients in the later stages of the disease may become totally paralyzed. (

While this disease isn’t completely understood, one thing is for sure – the Ice Bucket Challenge is working. According to Wikipedia,

After the Ice Bucket Challenge went viral on social media, public awareness and charitable donations to ALS charities soared. The New York Times reported that the ALS Association had received $41.8 million in donations from July 29 until August 21. More than 739,000 new donors have given money to the association, which is more than double the $19.4 million in total contributions the association received during the year that ended January 31, 2013. Similarly, the ALS Therapy Development Institute reported a ten-fold increase in donations relative to the same period in 2014, with over 2,000 donations made in a single day on August 20, 2014, while Project ALS reported a 50-fold increase.

The ALS Association, which raised $64 million in all of 2013, raised more than $10 million on Thursday, August 21, 2014, alone

ALS mainly affects people between the ages of 40 and 70, however there are cases of people in their 20s and 30s who have been diagnosed. The ALS Association says that, according to the ALS CARE Database, 60 percent of people with ALS are men and 93 percent of patients are Caucasian (figures taken from ALS patients represented in the Database). It is estimated that as many as 30,000 Americans have the disease at any given time. More work is being done to determine possible risk factors, but one known risk is that military veterans, particularly vets of the Gulf War, are twice as likely to develop ALS.

While symptoms at the onset of ALS are easily overlooked, some signs during the disease’s progression include:

  • muscle weakness in the hands, arms, legs and/or the muscles of speech, swallowing or breathing
  • twitching (fasciculation) and cramping of muscles, especially in the hands and feet
  • impairment in the use of the arms and legs
  • "thick speech" and difficulty projecting the voice
  • shortness of breath, difficulty in breathing and swallowing (in more advanced stages)

The symptoms of ALS and rate at which it progresses can vary widely from person to person, and not all sufferers experience the same symptoms. However, progressive muscle weakness and paralysis are present in all cases. Although the mean prognosis is three to five years, many people live five or ten years or more. One example of this is Stephen Hawking, who was diagnosed with a form of ALS when he was 21 and is currently in his early 70s.

Since ALS attacks only motor neurons, the five senses are not affected. For many people, muscles of the eyes and bladder are generally not affected.

To learn more about ALS, visit