Motor neurone disease (MND) is a rare and incurable condition that progressively damages parts of the nervous system. This leads to muscle weakness and wasting. It is also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
MND occurs when specialist nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord called motor neurones stop working properly. This means that messages sent by the brain gradually stop reaching the muscles, which may affect patients’ ability to grip, walk, speak, swallow or even breathe. The failure of motor neurones is known as neurodegeneration and, as the condition progresses, people with MND will find some or all of these activities increasingly difficult. Eventually they may become impossible.
It is not known what causes the failure of motor neurones. In about 5% of cases there is a family history of either MND or a related condition called frontotemporal dementia. In most of these cases, faulty genes have been identified as making a major contribution to the development of the condition.
Recent studies have shown that riluzole very slightly improves the patient's overall survival, although it does not stop the condition progressing. Diagnosis is often made by a neurologist based on clinical suspicion or through specialised tests.
Living with motor neurone disease is extremely challenging and often a terrifying prospect for patients. The main aim of treatment, therefore, is to manage patients’ symptoms and help them achieve the best possible quality of life. Many patients receive assistance from aids, such as a breathing mask or feeding tube, to assist with the progressive loss of their bodily functions.
Arran Macleod, a clinical negligence solicitor at Penningtons Manches, said: “This month is MND Awareness Month. Although there is currently no cure for MND, emphasis on the importance of an early diagnosis of the disease is key as this can lead to a better understanding for the patient about what is happening. A delay in diagnosis will prevent the patient from receiving the appropriate care, management and support they require to manage their symptoms. This can cause them to experience pain and suffering that may have been avoided.”