MONDAY, May 9 (HealthDay News) -- Having long ring fingers has been associated with a lethal nervous system disease known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), British researchers report.
Researchers hasten to explain, however, that this does not mean people with long ring fingers will develop the disease -- or even that they are at higher risk for it.
"We have not done a study that shows the risk of subsequently getting ALS in people with long ring fingers," cautioned lead researcher Ammar Al-Chalabi, a professor of neurology and complex disease genetics and director of King's MND Care and Research Center at King's College London.
What the study does find, Al-Chalabi said, is that "people with ALS tend to have more 'male' hands in that the ring finger is relatively longer than the index finger -- something that is a tendency in men."
"We already know that ALS is commoner in men, but this might suggest that the reason is something to do with the balance of hormones we are exposed to in the womb, because finger length seems to be determined in part by the amount of male hormone a developing baby is exposed to," he added.
ALS, sometimes called Lou Gehrig's disease, is a rapidly moving disease that is always fatal. Although it tends to leave people's intelligence intact, it attacks nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that control voluntary movement, causing progressive weakness and paralysis.
Most people with ALS die within three to five years, although about 10 percent live 10 years or longer with the disease, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health. When muscles in the chest fail, patients cannot breathe without ventilation and most eventually die from respiratory failure.
The cause of ALS isn't known. Although it can run in families, it strikes at random, and there is no cure.
The report was published in the May 9 online edit
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