By now you’ve probably seen countless family members, friends (and strangers) posting videos of themselves dumping buckets of ice on their heads. But what’s it really all about?

The challenge is a viral movement called the “Ice Bucket Challenge” designed to raise awareness for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease. Once ‘nominated’ for the challenge, you can either dump a bucket of ice water over your head and nominate others OR donate $100 to the ALS Association.

So What Exactly is ALS?

The ALS Association writes:

ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. Motor neurons reach from the brain to the spinal cord and from the spinal cord to the muscles throughout the body. The progressive degeneration of the motor neurons in ALS eventually leads to their death. When the motor neurons die, the ability of the brain to initiate and control muscle movement is lost. With voluntary muscle action progressively affected, patients in the later stages of the disease may become totally paralyzed.

Five Things You Should Know About ALS

In the spirit of raising awareness, here are five things you should know about ALS:

  1. ALS is not contagious.
  2. Approximately 5,600 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with ALS each year. The incidence of ALS is two per 100,000 people, and it is estimated that as many as 30,000 Americans may have the disease at any given time.
  3. There are people in whom ALS has stopped progressing and a small number of people in whom the symptoms of ALS reversed.
  4. ALS occurs throughout the world with no racial, ethnic or socioeconomic boundaries.
  5. The onset of ALS is insidious with muscle weakness or stiffness as early symptoms. Progression of weakness, wasting and paralysis of the muscles of the limbs and trunk as well as those that control vital functions such as speech, swallowing and later breathing generally follows.

Read more about ALS in the Adventist HealthCare’s online Health Library.

Between July 29 and August 12, the ALS Association has raised $4 million in donations compared to $1.12 million during the same time period last year.

“We have never seen anything like this in the history of the disease,” said Barbara Newhouse, President and CEO of The ALS Association. “We couldn’t be more thrilled with the level of compassion, generosity and sense of humor that people are exhibiting as they take part in this impactful viral initiative.”