By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD
Motor neurone disease is a progressive condition, with symptoms gradually worsening after onset and eventually causing severe disability.
Some of the complications associated with the various stages of motor neurone disease include:
Motor neurone disease can affect a person’s ability to control their emotions. One common sign of the condition is emotional displays of uncontrollable crying or laughing. This is also called the pseudo bulbar effect.
Initial symptoms often include difficulty speaking (dysarthria) and swallowing (dysphagia). Speech may become slurred and as swallowing becomes harder, a sufferer may be more likely to find they drool saliva.
People with motor neurone disease may experience a decline in cognitive ability and start to lose their ability to plan, communicate and concentrate. These cognitive changes overlap with a condition called frontotemporal dementia. The changes can be quite subtle and difficult to distinguish from the general effects of aging. However, in about 10% of motor neurone disease cases, the symptoms are more profound and develop fairly quickly after the initial muscle symptoms are seen.
As the control of the lung muscles worsens, it becomes more difficult for a person to breathe. A sufferer may experience shortness of breath after performing the simplest of daily activities such as climbing the stairs or they may even be short of breath when resting. Breathing can become particularly difficult at night when lying down and as the disease progresses, a patient may be advised to wear a breathing mask to enhance sleep quality and decrease day time drowsiness.
In the end stages of motor neurone disease, a person will usually experience paralysis and severe breathing difficulty. Eventually breathing assistance can no longer make up for the loss of lung function, which usually leads to the patient’s death.
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc
Last Updated: Mar 25, 2014