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Motor neurone disease (MND)

3-minute read

What is MND?

Motor neurone disease (MND) is the name for a group of diseases that affects particular nerves known as motor nerves, or motor neurons. In MND, those neurons generate and die and slowly the muscles become weaker. This eventually leads to paralysis. It is also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS.

What are the symptoms of MND?

MND is a progressive disease that usually starts slowly and gets worse over time. Symptoms sometimes starting on one side of the body and then spreading. Usually, the first things people notice are:

  • weakness in the hands and grip
  • slurred speech
  • weakness in the legs, and a tendency to trip
  • weakness of the shoulder, making lifting difficult
  • cramps and muscles twitching

Later on, people with MND:

  • have little or no movement
  • have trouble talking, breathing and swallowing

A few people with MND develop a type of dementia.

If you have MND, your sense of sight, touch, smell, hearing and taste won’t be affected.

What causes MND?

The exact cause of MND is not known. You can’t catch MND from somebody.

Generally, MND is believed to be caused because of a combination of environmental, lifestyle and genetic factors.

Most cases of MND occur spontaneously without any identifiable cause. Around 1 in 10 cases are ‘familial’ (meaning the condition is inherited) due to a genetic mutation (or error in the gene).

If a person has an MND-related genetic mutation, their children have a 50/50 chance of inheriting the MND-related genetic mutation.

If a person in your family has MND, other people in the family can be tested to see if they have the genetic mutation.

People who inherit the genetic mutation have a high chance of developing MND, but not all people with the genetic mutation will develop MND.

How is MND diagnosed?

MND can be hard to diagnose when the symptoms first appear because it seems like a lot of other conditions at first.

You may have a range of tests, some which eliminate other conditions.

Your doctor may refer you to a neurologist who will examine you and do various tests. These may include:

How is MND treated?

There is no cure, but a lot can be done to ease your symptoms, maintain quality of life and keep you as mobile as possible for as long as possible.

Most people with MND die within 2 to 3 years of developing the condition, however some people can live a long time.

See MND Australia's guide about end of life care for people living with MND.

Resources and support

MND Associations in each state provides individualised support to people with MND. To find the MND Association in your state, visit the MND Australia website, which also has a range of resources for people with MND and their family and friends.

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Last reviewed: January 2020


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