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Motor neurone disease

Motor neurone disease (MND) is a progressive neurodegenerative disease, but not all people are affected to the same degree.

It affects around 5,000 people in the UK - including Professor Steven Hawking.

The condition gained attention in 2015 when thousands of people took part in the Ice Bucket Challenge - tipping icy water over their heads and posting videos of it online - to raise money and awareness of MND.

In some parts of the world, including the US, MND is known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig's disease.

What exactly is motor neurone disease?

MND is a rare, incurable condition. It progressively damages the nervous system, causing the muscles to waste away. This happens when specialist nerve cells stop working properly as the disease progresses.

Motor neurones are found in the brain and spinal cord, so messages are no longer transmitted to the muscles. When muscles aren’t used, they deteriorate and waste away. Scientists are still unsure exactly what causes the motor neurones to stop working properly.

MND can affect adults at any age, but is usually diagnosed in people between the ages of 40 and 70, with around twice as many men affected as women.

What causes MND?

It’s hard to say, because triggers can be either genetic or environmental - or, in some cases, a combination of both. More research needs to be done before precise triggers can be identified.

What are the symptoms of MND?

MND can affect how well you can walk, talk, eat, drink and breathe. Symptoms vary in order and intensity from person to person and not everyone will have every symptom. Although the disease is progressive, meaning it worsens over time, the speed of deterioration can also vary a lot from person to person.

There are several types of MND and, depending on which type a person has, the initial symptoms will be different:

  • With limb-onset MND the first symptoms are weakness in the hands, arms and legs, general fatigue and unusual clumsiness, muscle twitches and cramps.
  • With bulbar-onset MND the tongue is the first organ affected and speech will become noticeably slurred. The tongue becomes smaller and may twitch. Swallowing becomes more difficult.
  • With respiratory-onset MND breathing difficulties are the first sign. Early morning headaches and waking up frequently in the night (due to a lack of oxygen from decreased breathing) are also symptoms.

As the disease progresses, some people suffer from mental impairment with memory loss and difficulty concentrating. This is relatively uncommon and can sometimes be confused with changes associated with ageing.

WebMD Medical Reference

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