What's Motor Neurone Disease?
You have nerves in your brain and spinal cord that control how your muscles work. These are called motor neurones. MND is a disease that aﬀects the motor neurones. With MND, motor neurones gradually stop telling your muscles how to move. When muscles no longer move, they become weak, which can also lead to stiﬀness and loss of muscle mass (wasting). MND is a life-shortening illness that can aﬀect how you walk, talk, eat, drink and breathe. This is usually diﬀerent for each individual. You may not get all of the symptoms and there is no set order in which they happen. The disease will progress, which means symptoms will get worse over time. For some people this can be rapid, for others it is slower. There is currently no cure for MND.
Who does MND aﬀect?
MND is a rare disease that aﬀects adults. Although younger adults are diagnosed, in most cases, you are likely to be over 40 years old. Most people with MND are aged between 50 and 70. Men are aﬀected almost twice as often as women.
MND is difficult to diagnose as:
- it is a rare disease and early symptoms, such as clumsiness, weakness or slightly slurred speech, could have other causes
- not all symptoms happen to everyone or in the same order
- testing can only prove you don’t have other conditions, as there is no direct test for MND.
What causes MND?
It is still not possible to be clear about what causes MND, as each person may be aﬀected by diﬀerent triggers. MND usually occurs with no apparent family history of the disease. In these cases, a mix of genetic and environmental triggers are thought to be involved, although genes may play a smaller role. Environmental triggers could be things that you eat, drink, touch or breathe, or a mix of these. The triggers may be diﬀerent for each individual, so there is no simple way to find out how the disease started. In a small number of cases, there is a family history of MND. This means there is a mistake in the genetic code that has been inherited, although other triggers may still be necessary for the disease to actually begin.
What are the symptoms?
MND can cause: weakness and increasing loss of movement in your limbs, twitching and rippling sensations under your skin, muscle tightness and cramping (which may cause pain), problems with breathing and extreme tiredness, and diﬃculties with speech, swallowing and saliva. Muscles in hands, feet or mouth are usually aﬀected first, but not necessarily all at once. Some people may have changes in thinking, reasoning and behaviour, known as cognitive change, but this is usually mild. Very few will experience severe changes to reasoning.
MND does not usually aﬀect: the senses – sight, hearing, smell, touch and taste, and the bladder and bowel.