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Motor Neurone Disease

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What is motor neurone disease?

Motor neurone disease (MND) is an uncommon condition that affects cells in the brain and nerves, called motor neurones. The condition causes muscle weakness that gets worse over time.

How do you get motor neurone disease?

Motor neurone disease arises when brain and nerve cells called motor neurones become damaged and gradually stop working over time.

It is not known why these cells become damaged. However, your risk of developing the condition may be increased by things such as:

  • having a close relative with motor neurone disease
  • having a related condition called frontotemporal dementia
  • smoking

What are the symptoms of motor neurone disease?

The symptoms of motor neurone disease usually develop gradually. Early symptoms can include:

  • leg or ankle weakness - you may find climbing the stairs difficult, trip more easily, and get more tired than normal after walking
  • slurred speech, difficulty shouting
  • difficulty swallowing, coughing after swallowing and/or feeling like you are choking
  • a weak grip – you may drop things and find it hard to open jars or do up buttons
  • muscle cramps, tiredness and twitching

Symptoms tend to affect certain parts of the body early on, but as the disease progresses, the symptoms usually spread to other areas of the body.

What’s the difference between upper and lower motor neurone disease?

Upper motor neurone disease is caused by changes to nerve cells in the brain or spinal cord (known as the central nervous system).

Symptoms of upper motor neurone disease tend to affect the mouth and throat first before spreading to the limbs. Symptoms include stiffness, clumsiness, and awkward movements.

Lower motor neurone disease is caused by changes to nerve cells that supply the muscles of the body (the peripheral nervous system).

Symptoms of lower motor neurone disease include facial weakness, difficulty speaking and swallowing, and muscle weakness, cramps and wasting.

What is the life expectancy for motor neurone disease?

Motor neurone disease can be a life-shortening condition for many people. Speak to your doctor if you have, or think you have, motor neurone disease. They will be able to provide you with more information about life expectancy and sources of support for living with the condition.

Is motor neurone disease genetically inherited?

Having a close relative with motor neurone disease can increase your risk of getting motor neurone disease. However, the condition does not run in families in most cases.

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