Motor neurone disease is a rare condition that progressively damages parts of the nervous system which leads to muscle weakness, often with visible wasting. It is also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and occurs when specialist nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord (motor neurones) stop working properly.
Motor neurones control important muscle activity, such as:
As the condition progresses, people with motor neurone disease will find some or all of these activities increasingly difficult. Eventually, they may become impossible.
There's no single test to diagnose motor neurone disease. The symptoms are usually clear to an experienced neurologist, but sometimes specialised tests are needed to rule out other conditions with similar features.
The symptoms begin gradually over weeks and months, usually on one side of the body initially, and get progressively worse. The condition is usually not painful. Common early symptoms include:
• Weakened grip, which can cause difficulty picking up or holding objects
• Weakness at the shoulder that makes lifting the arm difficult
• A "foot drop" caused by weak ankle muscles
• Dragging of the leg
• Slurred speech
As damage progresses, symptoms spread to other parts of the body and the condition becomes more debilitating.
There's currently no cure for motor neurone disease. Treatment aims to:
• Make the person feel comfortable and have the best quality of life possible. • Compensate for the progressive loss of bodily functions such as mobility, communication, swallowing and breathing.