Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

Motor neurone disease (MND)

5-minute read

What is MND?

Motor neurone disease (MND) is the name for a group of diseases. These diseases affect nerves known as motor nerves, or motor neurons. In MND, these neurons degenerate and die. This causes the muscles to become weaker and weaker. This eventually leads to paralysis. The MND disease group includes:

  • Lou Gehrig's disease, also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
  • progressive muscular atrophy (PMA)
  • progressive bulbar palsy (PBP)
  • primary lateral sclerosis (PLS)
  • Kennedy's disease, also known as spinal and bulbar muscular atrophy (SBMA)

MND is an uncommon disease. The average age that people are diagnosed with MND is 58 years.

These diseases affect nerves known as motor nerves, or motor neurons.

What are the symptoms of MND?

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

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

Later on, people with MND:

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

A few people with MND develop a type of dementia.

MND will not affect your ability to:

  • see
  • hear
  • smell
  • taste
  • touch

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 develop without an obvious cause.

Around 1 in 10 cases are 'familial', meaning the condition is inherited. This is due to a genetic mutation, or an error in the gene.

If you have an MND-related genetic mutation, your children have a 50/50 chance of inheriting that MND-related genetic mutation.

If someone in your family has MND, other people in the family can be tested for the genetic mutation. A test is arranged after you have met with a genetic counsellor. You will also receive support and counselling about the possible test results. The test is usually done by a blood sample.

People who inherit the genetic mutation have a high chance of developing MND. But, it is important to remember that not all people with the genetic mutation will develop MND.

When should I see a doctor?

If you notice any of the symptoms of early MND, you should see your doctor. If anyone in your family has MND, you can be tested by your doctor for the genetic mutation.

How is MND diagnosed?

MND can be hard to diagnose when the symptoms first appear. Your symptoms may be mild and non-specific and could be related to other conditions. It is important to see a doctor if your symptoms don’t get better.

There is not one test for diagnosing MND. You may need to have a range of tests done. Some of these will eliminate other conditions.

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

How is MND treated?

A person with MND will usually require assistance from different specialists, such as:

There is no cure for MND. However, with the help of specialists, a lot can be done to:

  • ease your symptoms
  • maintain your quality of life
  • keep you as mobile as possible for as long as possible

You may require the help of devices and home modifications to assist with movement and function. These might include:

  • a wheelchair
  • communication technology
  • tube feeding
  • a ventilator

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.

Can MND be prevented?

Because there is no known cause of MND, there is nothing you can to do prevent it.

What are the complications of MND?

The complications of MND relate to late-stage disease. This can involve respiratory failure and paralysis.

Resources and support

The 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. The website also has a range of resources for people with MND and their family and friends.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: June 2022

Back To Top

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Motor Neurone Disease Factsheet: Riluzole | MND Australia | MND Australia

Riluzole is a medication for motor neurone disease that extends life and slows the progression of MND by an average of 6–19 months. Learn more.

Read more on MND Australia website

Motor Neurone Disease Clinics in Australia | MND Australia | MND Australia

MND clinics have multidisciplinary healthcare professionals that provide a coordinated approach to supporting people with motor neurone disease.

Read more on MND Australia website

MND Connect: Living well with MND | MND Australia | MND Australia

MND Connect provides resources & information for people living with motor neurone disease; including the carers, family & health professionals who support them.

Read more on MND Australia website

What is motor neurone disease (MND?) | MND Australia | MND Australia

MND is a neurodegenerative disease that affects the motor neurons. Early MND symptoms include muscle weakness, slurred speech and swallowing difficulties.

Read more on MND Australia website

Motor Neurone Disease Information Sessions | MND Australia | MND Australia

The Australian MND Associations regularly host education & information sessions on motor neurone disease care and the latest research updates. Learn more.

Read more on MND Australia website

Motor Neurone Disease Research For A Cure | MND Australia | MND Australia

Research into motor neurone disease is the only way to discover causes, treatments & ultimately a cure for MND. Learn about the latest research news & progress.

Read more on MND Australia website

Speech & Communication with MND | MND Australia | MND Australia

Motor neurone disease can cause weakness in the tongue, lips, vocal cords and breathing muscles which can result in changes in the ability to speak. Learn more.

Read more on MND Australia website

Learn About Motor Neurone Disease (ALS/MND) | MND Australia | MND Australia

Motor neurone disease is also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease. Find out about the types of MND, genetics, research for treatments & early symptoms of MND.

Read more on MND Australia website

Motor Neurone Disease Medication: Riluzole | MND Australia | MND Australia

Riluzole is a medicinal treatment for motor neurone disease that slows the progression of the disease and extends survival by an average of 6–19 months.

Read more on MND Australia website

Eating, Drinking & Swallowing with MND | MND Australia | MND Australia

Some people with motor neurone disease will experience problems with eating, drinking and swallowing as MND can affect the muscles in the mouth and the throat.

Read more on MND Australia website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Victorian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo

Healthdirect Australia acknowledges the Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and their continuing connection to land, sea and community. We pay our respects to the Traditional Owners and to Elders both past and present.