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Motor Neurone Disease (MND), also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), is a progressive, rare disease that affects the nervous system. The condition can sadly lead to muscle weakness, which often results in visible wasting.

The condition occurs when nerve cells in the spinal cord and brain, which are called motor neurones, fail to work properly, which is known as neurodegeneration.

What do the Motor Neurones Control?

Motor neurones are responsible for a variety of actions many of us often take for granted, such as:

• Walking

• Gripping

• Speaking

• Breathing

• Swallowing

If the motor neurones fail to function, a person will find these actions particularly difficult, especially as the condition develops. Unfortunately, the above actions will become impossible for a person to perform.

What Causes Motor Neurone Disease?

It is unclear what causes motor neurone disease. In approximately 5% of diagnosed cases, there is a genetic history of the condition or another condition called fronto-temporal dementia. This is therefore known as familial motor neurone disease. In other cases, the condition is often caused by a faulty genes.

What Test Identifies Motor Neurone Disease?

No single test can be taken to diagnose MND, and it is more a matter of a neurologist’s opinion. A clear diagnosis can, however, often be given by an experienced neurologist. In some instances, specified tests may be required to rule out other similar conditions.

What are the Symptoms of MND?

Motor Neurone Disease symptoms will often begin gradually over weeks or month months, and will most likely develop on one side of the body, before becoming progressively worse.

Initial symptoms often include:

• Difficulty picking or holding objects due to a weak grip

• Shoulder weakness that makes lifting an arm difficult

• Weak ankle muscles that will cause a “foot drop”

• A dragging of the leg

• Slurred speech

While motor neurone disease is not usually painful, it will have a significant impact on a person’s health, as the condition will become more debilitating as symptoms spread to various parts of the body. The disease may result in an inability to communicate and swallow, and they may have difficulty breathing.

Who is Affected by Motor Neurone Disease?

Two in every 100,000 people in the UK are affected by motor neurone disease every year. There are approximately 5,000 UK citizens living with the condition at any one time, and it can affect adults of all ages. It can also affect teenagers, but this is very rare, as it is commonly diagnosed in people who are over 40 years old but most people will develop their first symptoms in their sixties. It also affects men more than women.

How to Treat MND

Unfortunately, there is no cure for motor neurone disease, but there are treatment options available, which include:

• A breathing mask

• A feeding tube (known as a gastrostomy)

• Medication

The MND Outlook

Motor neurone disease is sadly a life-shortening condition. Most people diagnosed with condition will have a life expectancy of three years from the start of the symptoms. However, some people can live up to 10 years with the disease and, in some cases, even longer.

While MND will undoubtedly be challenging to a person living with the condition, they can maintain some independence for a significant amount of time from the diagnosis, and so it may take a while for their quality of life to be affected.

The end of life for a person living with MND is often not distressing, and will commonly occur in the comfort of a person’s home. In many cases, a person with the disease will pass away in their sleep due to the gradual weakness of their breathing muscles.

Motor Neurone Disease Support

There is plenty of support available for people living with the condition and their families. The Motor Neurone Disease Association (MNDA) is a UK charity for people living with MND. The leading charity can provide practical advice, information and support to aid their quality of life, and ensure they can cope emotionally following a diagnosis.