What is MND?
Motor Neuron Disease (MND) is a term used to describe a group of severe diseases that target the brain and the spinal column. The disease specifically targets motor neurons, which are the nerve cells responsible for muscle movements.
MND and the Body
When you move your arm (sometimes without even directly thinking about it) a complex chain reaction occurs. The nerve cells in the brain generate an electrical impulse that travels down the spinal cord. The brain and spinal cord are what are referred to as upper motor neurons. This impulse is then passed on in the spinal cord to other nerve cells that distribute the message to the specific muscle(s). These nerve cells are referred to as the lower motor neurons and all of this happens in just a fraction of a second.
MND affects these neurons causing havoc with the signals that are being transmitted (think poor TV signal with a broken antenna). This can cause the muscles to twitch and waste away as their signals are cut off, eventually become rigid (or spastic) and ultimately losing voluntary movement.
MND is most severe when it starts to affect basic functions of the body such as swallowing and most importantly breathing. MND sufferers are prone to multiple lung infections as they cannot adequately cough to clear their lungs of mucus.
What causes MND?
The cause of MND is unknown and it can affect all ages from children through to adult. There have been suggestions linking contact sports, environmental toxins and possibly an autoimmune reaction - a reaction of the body's own immune system against itself - however, nothing has ever been proven.
How do you treat MND?
The treatment for MND remains mostly supportive and involves the roles of a multidisciplinary team including physiotherapists, nursing staff, doctors, occupational therapists, speech therapists and dieticians. There is currently no cure for MND.
What is the prognosis of MND?
MNDs are progressive in nature. The more severe forms of the disease such as Lou Gehrig's disease and spinal muscular atrophy are ultimately fatal. The less severe forms such as primary lateral sclerosis are not fatal and progress much slower.
The future of MND
There are currently multiple studies all over the world looking into possible treatment options. Unfortunately, until we can identify a cause, the cure for the disease may remain just out of reach.