People who play professional soccer could be at increased risk of developing amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), according to preliminary findings due to be released at the American Academy of Neurology's 71st Annual Meeting in Philadelphia in May.
For the study, researchers reviewed soccer trading cards of about 25,000 male professional soccer players who played in Italy from 1959 to 2000 and examined news reports to determine which players developed ALS. "There have been several deaths among Italian professional soccer players from ALS, and previous ALS research has found that 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," explained study author Dr Ettore Beghi of the Mario Negri Institute for Pharmacological Research in Milan, Italy.
They found that 33 soccer players developed ALS, or around 3.2 cases per 100,000, which is significantly higher than the rate of ALS in the general population of 1.7 cases per 100,000 people every year.
The study also found that soccer players may develop the disease around 20 years earlier than people in the general population.