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Health Fact Sheet
Motor Neurone Disease or
Amyotropic Lateral Sclerosis

 

WHAT IS MOTOR NEURONE DISEASE (MND) OR AS IT IS SOMETIMES KNOWN, AMYOTROPHIC LATERAL SCLEROSIS (ALS)?

MND/ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, is a disease of the parts of the nervous system that control voluntary muscle movement. The word amyotrophic means "without muscle nourishment," and refers to the loss of signals the nerves normally send to the muscles. Lateral means "to the side," and refers to the location of the damage in the spinal cord. Sclerosis means "hardened," and refers to the hardened nature of the spinal cord in advanced MND. In the United States, MND/ALS is also called Lou Gehrig's disease, after the Yankees baseball player who died of it in 1941. In Britain and elsewhere in the world, ALS is often called motor neuron disease, in reference to the cells that are lost in this disorder.

WHAT HAPPENS TO SOMEONE WITH MND?

In MND, nerve cells that control muscle cells are gradually lost. In most cases, the cause is unknown. As these motor neurons are lost, the muscles they control become weak and then non functional. Eventually, the person with MND is paralysed. Death, usually from respiratory complications, typically comes between three and five years after diagnosis. Although not typical of the condition, British physicist Stephen Hawking has had MND since the 1960s and is still able to write and practice his profession.

It's important to note that the involuntary muscles, such as those that control the heartbeat, gastrointestinal tract, bowel and bladder functions are not directly affected in MND.  Pain is not a major component of the disorder, although moderate pain can certainly occur as a result of immobility. Cramps in the legs are quite common. Hearing, vision, touch and intellectual ability generally remain quite normal. Some experts believe that certain emotional changes may be attributed directly to the disease process.

 

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