ALS is a rare neurologic disease that mainly affects the nerve cells responsible for controlling voluntary muscle movement such as walking or talking. It is a disease that gets worse over time and eventually leads to death, most often from respiratory failure. There is currently no cure for ALS.
"There have been several deaths among Italian professional soccer players from ALS, and previous ALS research has found repeated head injuries may be a risk factor for the disease, so our study sought to determine if professional soccer players are more likely to get ALS than someone in the general population," said study author Ettore Beghi, MD, of the Mario Negri Institute for Pharmacological Research in Milan, Italy, and a Fellow of the American Academy of Neurology.
Researchers found 33 soccer players developed ALS, or an average of 3.2 cases per 100,000 people every year. The rate of ALS in the general population, calculated from an Italian population registry, would have resulted in an expected 18 cases of ALS, or an average of 1.7 cases per 100,000 people every year. The difference translated to soccer players being nearly twice as likely to develop ALS. When looking just at soccer players age 45 and younger, the rate of developing ALS was 4.7 times higher than for people in the general population.
The average age of developing ALS among soccer players was 43 years compared to 63 years for the general population.
Since researchers studied only professional players, the results cannot be applied to those who play soccer at lower levels of play.
Beghi noted that ALS is still a rare disease and the study results should not be construed to suggest that people should stop playing soccer or not start the sport.
A limitation of the study was that few details were available on participants' ALS diagnosis.
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