What is MND? Symptoms of Motor Neurone Disease explained, is it genetic, and when to see a doctor

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There’s no cure for MND, but there are treatments to help reduce the impact it has on a person’s daily life

Motor Neurone Disease (MND) mainly affects people in their 60s and 70s, but it can affect adults of all ages.

But what is the condition, what are the symptoms and is it genetic?

Here’s what you need to know.

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What is motor neurone disease and is it genetic?

Motor neurone disease is an uncommon condition that affects the brain and nerves.

The NHS explains that it “causes weakness that gets worse over time.”

MND mainly affects people in their 60s and 70s, but it can affect adults of all ages.

It's caused by a problem with cells in the brain and nerves called motor neurons. These cells gradually stop working over time, but it’s not known why this happens.

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Having a close relative with MND or a related condition called frontotemporal dementia, can sometimes mean you're more likely to get it, but it does not run in families in most cases.

If a close relative does have MND or frontotemporal dementia, and you're worried you may be at risk of it, then the GP may refer you for genetic counselling to talk about your risk and the tests you can have.

New research also recently found that frequent strenuous exercise increases the risk of MND in people genetically predisposed to develop the condition.

Researchers said the study was a significant step forward to understanding the link between high levels of physical activity and the development of the condition.

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What are the symptoms of MND?

The symptoms of motor neurone disease happen gradually and may not be obvious at first.

Early symptoms can include:

  • weakness in your ankle or leg – you might trip, or find it harder to climb stairs
  • slurred speech, which may develop into difficulty swallowing some foods
  • a weak grip – you might drop things, or find it hard to open jars or do up buttons
  • muscle cramps and twitches
  • weight loss – your arms or leg muscles may have become thinner over time
  • difficulty stopping yourself from crying or laughing in inappropriate situations

When should I see a GP and what are the tests for MND?

You should see a GP if you have possible early symptoms of motor neurone disease, such as muscle weakness.

You should also see a GP if a close relative has motor neurone disease or frontotemporal dementia and you're worried you may be at risk of it.

The GP may refer you for genetic counselling to talk about your risk and the tests you can have.

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There's no single test for MND and several conditions cause similar symptoms, meaning it can be difficult to diagnose motor neurone disease in the early stages.

To help rule out other conditions, a neurologist may arrange:

  • blood tests
  • a scan of your brain and spine
  • tests to measure the electrical activity in your muscles and nerves
  • a lumbar puncture (also called a spinal tap) – when a thin needle is used to remove and test the fluid from within your spine

What is the treatment for MND?

The NHS says: “There's no cure for motor neurone disease, but treatment can help reduce the impact the symptoms have on your life.”

You'll be cared for by a team of specialists and a GP.

Treatments include:

  • highly specialised clinics, typically involving a specialist nurse and occupational therapy to help make everyday tasks easier
  • physiotherapy and exercises to maintain strength and reduce stiffness
  • advice from a speech and language therapist
  • advice from a dietitian about diet and eating
  • a medicine called riluzole that can slightly slow down the progression of the condition
  • medicines to relieve muscle stiffness and help with saliva problems
  • emotional support for you and your carer