What is motor neurone disease and what's the life expectancy?

MOTOR neurone disease is an incurable condition that affects the nervous system.

Here’s everything you need to know about the life-changing illness that rugby league player Rob Burrows has been diagnosed with.

What is motor neurone disease?

Motor neurone disease is a rare condition.

About two in every 100,000 Brits develop it each year.

It affects specialist nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, causing the function of motor neurons to break down.

When this neurodegeneration occurs, everyday activities become increasingly difficult or completely impossible.

Over time, the condition progressively worsens as the muscle weakens and can visibly waste.

The majority of those diagnosed with the disease are given a three-year life expectancy starting from when they first notice the symptoms.

What causes motor neurone disease?

Even though there has been research into the cause of motor neurone disease, it is difficult to identify a particular trigger for the disease.

5-10 per cent of all people with MND have the inherited or genetic form of the disease. Genes may still play a small part in other cases.

Whether there is a family history or not, other environmental triggers may still be needed for the disease to begin.

These triggers may be different for each individual.

Around 35 per cent of people with MND experience mild cognitive change, which can cause issues in executive functions such as planning, decision-making and language.

A further 15 per cent of people with MND show signs of frontotemporal dementia, which results in more pronounced behavioural change.

What are the symptoms of motor neurone disease?

While motor neurone disease isn’t usually painful, symptoms can be extremely debilitating.

In many cases, signs of the disease will begin gradually.

Typically, this will occur on one side of the body only, before progressively worsening.

Heartbreakingly, motor neurone disease may leave the diagnosed unable to move or communicate property.

Swallowing and breathing may also become a difficult task.

The NHS outlines initial symptoms to look out for…

  • a 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 (dysarthria)

How is motor neurone disease treated?

Medical research is yet to find a cure for the rare illness.

Despite this, there is some treatment that can help those with motor neurone disease have a better quality of life, as well as helping with their mobility and bodily functions.

For those who struggle with respiration, a breathing mask may be prescribed.

Riluzole is a medication that is used to help people with motor neurone disease, although it doesn’t prevent the condition progressing.

As it stands, this treatment has only shown a very small improvement in patients’ survival.

For more information, visit the MND Association's official website.

Famous people who have had motor neurone disease

Rob Burrow announced on December 20, 2019 that he has been diagnosed with the rare disease.

The 37-year-old, who won eight Super League titles and 20 caps for England and Great Britain, has already met former Scotland rugby union player and fellow MND sufferer Doddie Weir.

Burrow said he was feeling "positive" and he was intending to carry on as normal as possible.

He added: "But what I don’t want is pity. I think that’s the scary thing, that people feel sorry for you. I don’t want that, I just want to crack on like normal."

Fernando Ricksen was an ex-Rangers player who was diagnosed in motor neurone disease in 2013 and tragically died after a six-year battle on September 18, 2019.

The Dutch national was a fans' favourite during his six-year spell at Rangers after being signed by Dick Advocaat in 2000.

The star footballer was a passionate campaigner and fundraiser, spending years raising money and awareness for those similarly battling the disease.

His charity has raised over £1m in a bid to help scientists with research.

Speaking to ITV News in June, when he used eye movements to talk via a computer, Ricksen urged those in sport to do more to help pressure drugs companies to find a cure.

Remarkably, physics genius Stephen Hawking battled motor neurone disease since he was 21-years-old.

The national treasure, who died on March 14, 2018, aged 76, managed to defy all odds, especially given that he was diagnosed with two years to live.

Hawking regularly thanked the NHS for their assistance since his diagnosis.

He said he would “not be here without it” because he’d had a “large amount of high-quality treatment”.

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