Motor neuron disease

November 12, 2012

Motor neuron disease

Motor neuron disease can occur at any age but are more common in men than women. They can be inherited or acquired with symptoms often appearing after the age of 40. If the disease was inherited then symptoms are often present at birth or reveal themselves buy the time the child is learning to walk. Motor neuron diseases are a group of neurological disorders, which get progressively worse. The cells that control muscle activity and are required for all physical actions including speaking, walking, breathing and swallowing are destroyed causing a disruption in the signal sent from the brain to nerve cells and on to particular muscles. This can have many effects on the body including a gradual weakening of the muscles, muscles to waste away and uncontrollable twitching. Eventually those suffering from motor neuron disease can lose control over movement. The cause of the motor neuron diseases that have not been inherited, known as sporadic, is unknown. Some experts believe that environmental, toxic and genetic factors could play a role in the development of the diseases. Some examples of the most common motor neuron diseases include amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, primary lateral sclerosis and progressive muscular atrophy. There are many forms of inherited spinal muscular atrophy and additionally there is a condition that can occur in polio survivor’s decades after recovery. There is no cure for motor neuron disease, there is only treatment and methods used to control symptoms, help maintain muscle strength and retain some independents. There is a drug that can prolong life for 2 or 3 months, called riluzole but this will not help to relieve any symptoms. There are other treatments available including muscle relaxants, medicines for excessive saliva and anti-inflammatory medicines to help relieve pain. During later stages of the diseases morphine and opiates may be used to control the pain.

There are also different kinds of physical therapy and rehabilitation available to slow muscle weakness, maintain posture and prevent joint immobility. Additionally there are assistive devices available, which can be used to keep some level of independence. For example, braces, speech synthesizers and wheelchairs. Sufferers of motor neuron disease must stick to a nutritional and balanced diet in order to maintain weight and strength.

The rate of progression of motor neuron diseases varies depending on the individual’s age and the form of disease that they are suffering from. Some diseases including Kennedy disease and primary lateral sclerosis progress slowly and are not fatal. Some forms of spinal muscular atrophy and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis are fatal.

There is being research being done focusing on ultimately finding ways to cure motor neuron diseases but also ways of preventing and treating them. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, who also offer grants to finance research being done by external medical institutions, are conducting much of this research.

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