As Sandra Bullock's partner Bryan Randall dies of ALS, what is the disease?

Those diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a type of motor neurone disease, typically have a life expectancy of three to five years

Bryan Randall and Sandra Bullock in New York City in 2018. GC Images
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Sandra Bullock’s partner Bryan Randall died on Saturday aged 57 from ALS, his family revealed in a statement.

“It is with great sadness that we share that Bryan Randall passed away peacefully after a three-year battle with ALS on August 5,” the post reads. “Bryan chose early to keep his journey with ALS private and those of us who cared for him did our best to honour his request.”

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s in North America, is a type of motor neurone disease. It is a neurodegenerative disease that results in the progressive loss of motor neurones that control voluntary muscles such as chewing, talking and moving.

Other types of motor neurone diseases include progressive bulbar palsy (PBP), which causes muscle weakness that affects speech and swallowing; primary lateral sclerosis (PLS), which causes progressive muscle weakness in the voluntary muscles; and progressive muscular atrophy (PMA), a rare disease that results in muscle wasting and the loss of muscle mass.

"ALS represents a progressive neurodegenerative condition without a known cure," said Dr Vishal Pawar, a specialist neurologist at Aster Clinic in Dubai. "Certain disorders share similarities with ALS but are treatable. It's crucial to thoroughly examine and distinguish ALS from these treatable motor neurone disorders to ensure patients receive appropriate care and achieve optimal results."

Those with ALS also find their muscles get weaker as the condition progresses, making it more difficult to walk, talk and eventually breathe, which can lead to respiratory failure.

ALS was spotlighted in 2014 thanks to the viral Ice Bucket Challenge, started by Pete Frates, in which people dumped buckets of ice over their heads to raise awareness of the disease. The campaign raised more than $200 million to fund research.

What are the symptoms of ALS?

According to Cleveland Clinic, the first noticeable symptoms include muscle weakness or stiffness. As the disease progresses, it spreads to other parts of the body.

Other symptoms include muscle cramps and twitching, difficulty using the arms and legs, difficulty projecting the voice, weakness, fatigue and weight loss.

As it gets more severe, other symptoms include shortness of breath, difficulty in breathing, chewing, swallowing, and the inability to stand or walk independently.

What causes ALS?

The exact cause remains unclear. However, according to the ALS Association, in 10 per cent of cases the disease is hereditary.

People who develop ALS tend to be aged between 40 and 70, with an average age of 55 at the time of diagnosis. Men are 20 per cent more likely than women to develop the disease.

Is there a cure?

There is currently no cure for ALS. However, the FDA approved a medication called Riluzole in 1995 that has helped prolong survival rate.

The life expectancy of those with the disease is typically about three to five years. However, some have lived for 10 years or more.

How is ALS treated?

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, the main treatment includes management of symptoms using physical, occupational, speech, respiratory and nutritional therapies.

Why is ALS also called Lou Gehrig’s disease?

Lou Gehrig was a famous American baseball player in the 1920s and 1930s. He was diagnosed with ALS in 1939, which ended his career. He died of the disease a few years later.

Updated: August 08, 2023, 12:20 PM