What is motor neurone disease?

This week is motor neurone disease (MND) awareness week, a terrible disease that shot to prominence on the back of the successful ice bucket challenge four years ago.

More than 2000 people in Australia suffer from MND, 60 per cent male and 40 per cent female. On average, two people die every day from the disease with an average life expectancy of 2.5 years once a sufferer has been diagnosed.

What exactly is this terrible disease, what does it do, what are the early warning signs that you may be developing MND, and are we getting closer to a cure?

What is MND?
MND is the name given to a group of diseases in which these neurones fail to work normally. Motor neurones control the muscles that enable us to move, speak, breathe and swallow. Muscles then gradually weaken and waste, as neurones degenerate and die.

Motor Neurone Disease (MND) is the name given to the group of diseases in which the motor neurones undergo degeneration and die. Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), Progressive Muscular Atrophy (PMA), Progressive Bulbar Palsy (PBP) and Primary Lateral Sclerosis (PLS) are all subtypes of motor neurone disease.

What are the symptoms and early warning signs?
MND symptoms develop slowly and can be confused with symptoms of some other unrelated neurological conditions.

Early symptoms depend upon which body system is affected first. Typical symptoms begin in one of three areas: the arms and legs, the mouth (bulbar), or the respiratory system.

Early warning signs include:

  • a weakening grip, making it hard to pick up and hold things
  • fatigue
  • muscle pains, cramps, and twitches
  • slurred and sometimes garbled speech
  • weakness in the arms and legs
  • increased clumsiness and stumbling
  • difficulty swallowing
  • trouble breathing or shortness of breath.

As the disease progresses symptoms may include:

  • breathing difficulties from decreased lung capacity caused by muscle weakness
  • fatigue caused by muscle exhaustion, decreased lung capacity, metabolic changes, weight loss and reduced food intake
  • insomnia caused by discomfort, pain from stiff joints and muscles, excessive saliva, dry mouth or breathing problems
  • mild changes in cognitive skills and processes and/or behavioural change
  • fronto-temporal cognitive changes (a type of dementia), which is prominent in 5–10 per cent of MND cases
  • excessive laughing or crying due to damage to the upper motor neurones
  • some pain or discomfort.

At present there is no known cure or treatment for MND, but research in the area has grown significantly thanks to high-profile fund-raising efforts in Australia and around the world.

For more information, visit mndaust.asn.au

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Health disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.

Written by Ben

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