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Brain Injuries May Have Killed Lou Gehrig, Not A.L.S.

A new study raises the implication that Lou Gehrig, the face of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or “Lou Gehrig’s disease,” may not have died from A.L.S., but from a very similar fatal disease brought on by brain injuries.

Most A.L.S. patients are not autopsied, but doctors are now saying that there are instances where a patient may appear to have A.L.S., but examination of the actual tissues of the body indicate that it is not A.L.S.

Florida brain injury lawyers are noting that the study may result in changes to the way doctors look at motor degeneration in athletes and military veterans who are currently being diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease at very high rates. If the patient has a significant history of brain injury they might be considered for different treatments, which may lead to an alternative path to a cure.

Lou Gehrig had a well-documented history of concussions on the baseball field, and probably more as a football player in high school and for Columbia University. Gehrig had a renowned commitment to play through injuries, which is how he played 2,130 consecutive baseball games over 14 years, but it may also have led to his condition.

The study was done by doctors at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Bedford, Mass., and the Boston University School of Medicine. Part of their study looked at two National Football League players and one boxer who had all been diagnosed with A.L.S. The researchers concluded from looking at markings on the spinal cords of these athletes that they did not have A.L.S., but a different fatal disease brought on by concussion-like trauma. This trauma erodes the central nervous system in a way similar to A.L.S.

The three men had dramatically high levels of TDP-43, two proteins known to cause motor-neuron degeneration. They would appear in the cord as a result of blows to the brain, and the proteins would likely have traveled down the spinal cord.

Source: New York Times “Study Says Brain Trauma Can Mimic Lou Gehrig’s Disease” August 17, 2010

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