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Motor Neuron Disease

Motor Neuron Disease


ALS – The Ice Bucket Challenge

A simple challenge to raise awareness for Motor Neuron Disease (MND) swept the nation and raised $millions, but what is ALS?

Motor Neuron Disease – ALS

For many of us, ALS isn’t a term we may have used, or even heard of, but ALS refers to a particular type of Motor Neuron Disorder known as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis; a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. Occurring when specialist nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord stop working properly, the disorder causes muscle weakness and atrophy throughout the body due to the degeneration of the upper and lower motor neurons. Individuals affected by the disorder may ultimately lose the ability to initiate and control all voluntary movements. With voluntary muscle action progressively affected, patients in the later stages of the disease may become totally paralysed.


The body has many kinds of nerves such as those involved in the processes of thinking, memory, and those of detecting sensations. The nerves that are affected when you have ALS are the motor neurons that provide voluntarymovements and muscle power.

Motor neuron disease can be classified into four main types:

  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) – The most common type of motor neuron disease mainly causing muscle cramps, weakness, wasting of muscles and stiffness in your legs.

  • Progressive Bulbar Palsy (PBP) – Affecting about one in four people with motor neuron disease. Progressive Bulbar Palsy mainly affects speech and swallowing.

  • Progressive Muscular Atrophy (PMA) – A less common type of motor neuron disease. It causes muscle weakness, particularly in your hands, before it spreads to the rest of your body. It also causes muscle wasting and twitching.

  • Primary lateral sclerosis (PLS) – A rare form of MND involving the upper motor neurons only. Diagnosis is often provisional.

Symptoms of Motor Neuron Disease

The symptoms of the disease gradually begin over several weeks and months and more commonly over one side of the body and progressively worsen. The parts of the body affected by early symptoms of ALS depend on which motor neurons in the body are damaged first. Sufferers of ALS may experience:

  • Slurred speech

  • Problems with swallowing or breathing.

  • A weakened grip and problems in the arms

  • Weak ankle muscles and a dragging of the leg

The condition is not usually painful but as damage progresses, symptoms spread to other parts of the body and the condition becomes more debilitating and, eventually, a person with ALS (MND) may be unable to move. Whilst there is no cure for Motor Neurone Disorder, treatment aims to make the sufferer feel comfortable, help with the progressive loss of bodily functions such as mobility, communication, swallowing and breathing and help ensure the sufferer has the best quality of life possible. If you or anyone in your family is worried about MND, please do not hesitate to call your GP for further information and advice.

A simple challenge to raise awareness for Motor Neuron Disorder (MND) has raised in excess of $88 million for ALS research. I’d say well done #icebucketchallenge