In this section you will find fact sheets and commonly asked questions about motor neurone disease (MND), which is also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or Lou Gerig's disease in some countries.


 

Motor neurone disease (MND) is the name given to a group of diseases in which the nerve cells - neurones - controlling the muscles that enable us to move, speak, breathe and swallow; undergo degeneration and die.

Neurones are nerve cells. Motor neurones take messages from the brain to the voluntary muscles and to some glands. There are two types of motor neurones. Upper motor neurones (UMN) take the messages from the brain through the spinal cord. Lower motor neurones (LMN) take the message from the spinal cord to the muscles.

MND leads to the degeneration of these motor neurones. It can affect:

  • just the upper motor neurones in the brain that descend to the spinal cord or,
  • just the lower motor neurones that exit the spinal cord to activate muscles or,
  • both upper and lower motor neurones.

With no nerves to activate them, muscles gradually weaken and waste. The patterns of weakness vary from person to person.

MND does not affect the sensory neurones – the nerves that receive messages from things we see, touch, smell, hear and taste.

MND occurs at similar rates in most countries of the world. It is estimated that there are presently more than 2,000 people with MND in Australia. Slightly more men than women are diagnosed with MND, most commonly in the 50 to 60 year age group. However, MND may be diagnosed in adults at any age.

Booklet describing motor neurone disease, management of symptoms and how to access services.

  • free online
  • hardcopy available - free for members and others.

(c) MND Australia published April 2024

Early symptoms of motor neurone disease are often mild. 

They may include:

  • Stumbling due to weakness of the leg muscles
  • Difficulty holding objects due to weakness of the hand muscles
  • Slurring of speech or swallowing difficulties due to weakness of the tongue and throat muscles
  • Cramps and muscle twitching (fasciculation).

Diagnosing motor neurone disease can be difficult, and so sometimes a diagnosis may take time as the neurologist would like to observe a person over a period of time to see how the symptoms may change or respond to tests. If your doctor/GP thinks your symptoms may be due to a neurological problem, they should organise a referral to a neurologist.

MND can be classified into four main types depending on the pattern of motor neurone involvement and the part of the body where the symptoms begin.

Treatment options that slow progression of the disease are currently limited and there is no cure. The rate of disease progression varies depending on the type of MND and from person to person. There are ways to manage the symptoms of MND and to improve quality of life.

MND affects the nerves that carry messages from your brain to your muscles. As these nerves gradually deteriorate, the signals cannot reach the muscles, so they become weaker, stiff and begin to waste. This can cause pain and discomfort which can interfere with your sleep and your overall quality of life.

The causes of motor neurone disease are not yet known, but ongoing research throughout the world is looking for causes.

Visit the Information Resources page of our website for more in-depth information about managing MND.

Topics include:

  • Riluzole
  • Multidisciplinary care
  • Physical activity and MND
  • Relationships and intimacy
  • Communication and swallowing
  • Cognitive and behaviour change
  • Breathing and MND
  • Pain and MND
  • And more.

The page has information for people living with MND, their family and friends as well as information for health and community care professionals.

For information about MND for children and young people, vist the MND Youth Hub. Parental guidance is recommended when accessing the MND Youth Hub.

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