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Health Fact Sheet
Motor Neurone Disease or
Amyotropic Lateral Sclerosis


Getting Enough to Eat and Drink

As the muscles involved in chewing, moving food towards the back of the mouth, and swallowing weakens in MND, eating and drinking become less pleasurable and more hazardous and time consuming. The most serious problems are outright choking, obstruction of the trachea, or windpipe, by a piece of food and aspiration, which means inhaling food or liquid into the lungs instead of routing it down the oesophagus into the stomach. Normally, the throat muscles protect us from aspirating food or drink, but they may lose their ability to do this as MND advances. Later, if swallowing becomes very hazardous and eating takes a great deal of unrewarding time and energy, the therapist and doctor may ask the patient to consider the insertion of a tube that goes directly into the stomach. If it's still possible to swallow some foods or liquids safely, the MND patient can continue to eat and drink after placement of a feeding tube, but the swallowing mechanism no longer has to be relied on as the sole method of obtaining adequate nutrition. This can be a relief to those who can not take in enough calories by mouth because they get too tired or are afraid of choking or aspirating food.

Maintaining Respiratory Function

Perhaps the most serious medical complication in MND is the gradual deterioration of the muscles involved in breathing. The diaphragm is an arched muscle located just beneath the lungs, which moves up and down and allows air to come in and move out. The intercostals are muscles between the ribs that contract and relax and also assist with air movement. As these muscles weaken, the act of breathing, which is entirely automatic for most people, becomes conscious and energy consuming.

Emotional and Intellectual Life

Although MND shortens life, it doesn't have to destroy it. An enormous number of people with MND have rich emotional lives with their families and friends, continue with existing careers or interests or find new ones. People with MND are artists, writers, readers, computer specialists, physicists, doctors and parents. Many people with MND, sometimes to the surprise of health care professionals and co-workers, maintain a sense of perspective and humour.


Years ago, it was widely believed that there might be one cause to explain all cases of MND. Today, doctors and scientists know that can not be the case. Together, they are working to identify the multiple causes of the disorder.


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