Motor neurone disease: What is the condition and what are the symptoms?

Every June, Motor Neurone Disease Awareness Month takes place in order to raise awareness about the health condition.

Affecting approximately two in every 100,000 people in the UK, the disease impacts the nerves in the brain and spinal cord, leading to gradual damage of the body's nervous system.

Here's everything you need to know about motor neurone disease :

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What is it?

The term "motor neurone disease" refers to a group of diseases which negatively impact the nervous system, the Motor Neurone Disease Association states.

The damage caused to the motor neurones in the brain and spinal cord makes it harder for them to send signals to the body's muscles.

This can in turn lead to muscle weakness and deterioration.

Motor neurone disease is frequently referred to as amytrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

ALS is the most common form of motor neurone disease among adults, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke outlines.

ALS affects the upper and lower motor neurones. Upper motor neurones are transmitted from the brain to nerve cells in the brain stem and spinal cord, before being transmitted to muscles around the body.

In 1963, a 21-year-old Professor Stephen Hawking was diagnosed with an early-onset form of motor neurone disease.

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Despite doctors giving him a life expectancy of two years, Professor Hawking lived with the disease for more than 50 years before his death in March 2018.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of motor neurone disease can vary between individuals, the Motor Neurone Disease Association explains.

Nonetheless, symptoms can include muscle weakness, muscle cramps, stiff joints, communication issues, difficulty swallowing, breathing problems and changes in one's behaviour.

Symptoms of motor neurone disease become progressively worse over time, and can lead to those diagnosed with the condition needing to use a wheelchair and be fed through tubes.

The condition also leads to a shortened life expectancy, which can vary from a few years to several decades.

What causes motor neurone disease?

Motor neurone disease predominantly affects adults in their 60s and 70s, the NHS states.

An individual develops the condition when the motor neurones in the brain and nerves stop working efficiently.

It's not known why this deterioration begins to occur.

However, research suggests ALS could be an autoimmune disease, indicating that individuals with pre-existing autoimmune conditions may be at greater risk.

The NHS states that while having a close relative with motor neurone disease may increase your chances of developing the condition, in most cases it's not hereditary.

How is it treated?

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There is currently no cure for motor neurone disease.

However, there is treatment available to help ease symptoms.

These treatments include occupational therapy, physiotherapy and the prescription of a medicine called riluzole, which can slow down the progression of the condition, the NHS outlines.

An individual diagnosed with motor neurone disease may also be advised to seek guidance from a dietitian and a speech and language therapist.

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