Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Is it possible that Lou Gehrig did not have ALS?

Neuropathologist Ann McKee (pictured) is back in the news today with a fascinating article about trauma-related motor neuron disease as a distinct entity from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). ALS is also known as "Lou Gehrig's disease". The implication is that, with all the head trauma he sustained both in baseball and in college football, Lou Gehrig himself may not have had ALS, but rather trauma-related motor neuron disease! Read more here from today's New York Times.


Scout said...

I read about this in the NYTimes this morning, and thought the same thing then as when I came across your post this afternoon: What freakin' head trauma in baseball?! Sure, you can get beaned in the head with a pitch, or you can collide with another player or the wall when chasing a fly ball, but it's a pretty rare event, is it not? The NYTimes article states "the Yankee legend had a well-documented history of significant concussions on the baseball field" but does not give a citation for this statement.

How many concussions did Lou Gehrig sustain on the baseball field, and where is the documentation? And how many concussions does the average baseball player suffer in a season? I'd guess it's a pretty low number, but I don't really know.

Seems like a task for our intrepid blogger, Dr. Moore.

Until I see some numbers and some documentation of significant concussions on the baseball field, I'm going to remain skeptical. Get to work, Dr. Moore. Please? And: Thank you.

Brian E. Moore, MD said...

Thanks for the comment, Scout. I'll get on it!

jd said...

This was the lead story on HBO's Real Sports this month. There were at least 6 occasions when Gehrig sustained a concussion, being knocked out cold, requiring smelling salts for revival, or having an associated broken jaw, and was back in the lineup the next day. Today, he would have been held out for days.

There's no doubt that Gehrig had ALS. The question is whether head truama can be an etiology for ALS in a certain subset of patients.

Anonymous said...

Maybe someone should take another look at the cluster of 1964 SF 49ers football teammates who died of ALS, including Matt Hazeltine.

Also, apropos of Lou Gehrig and the rigors of baseball, I seem to recall that in the movie "Pride of the Yankees" they do depict Gary Cooper as Gehrig getting hit in the head by a errant throw while running the bases.