WATERRLO (KWWL) -- People who smoke cigarettes or have smoked in the past may be more likely to develop Lou Gehrig's disease, according to a new study.
The disease slowly kills the neurons that send messages between the brain and the rest of the body, causing patients to lose control of their muscles -- including those that are essential for eating and breathing. Most people who are diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease, also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, don't survive more than five years after the diagnosis.
About 20,000 to 30,000 people in the United States have ALS, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While about 10 percent of those cases are caused by a genetic defect, the rest have no known cause. Some previous studies have suggested that smoking may be one factor that increases a person's risk of getting ALS, but others have found no link.