Motor Neuron Disease: What you need to know


As South Africa mourns the death of former Springbok captain Joost van der Westhuizen, many may wonder how a strong athlete can suffer from Motor Neuron Disease (MND), or even have questions about what it actually is. Find out more about the disease below:

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MND is a neurological disease that affects over 400,000 of the world’s population, according to The International Alliance of ALS/MND Associations.

The disorder can affect adults of any age, but usually is more common among over 40s. The causes are still being researched, as the disease affects each individual differently. Research being done by the Motor Neurone Disease Association suggests that it is combination of factors such as environmental, lifestyle and genetics.

There are various types of MND but the most common is Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). It is characterised by weakness and wasting in the limbs. These are the nerves in the brain and spinal cord that control how your muscles work. This means that messages gradually stop reaching muscles, leading to weakness, stiffness and wasting. MND is a progressive disease and symptoms get worse with time, affecting how you walk, talk, eat, drink and breathe.


As each case of MND is unique. It’s advised that one consults a doctor to diagnose if any of the symptoms occur.

Pain and discomfort: are not caused directly by MND, but may have several indirect causes.

Muscle cramps and spasms: someone may notice they are tripping when walking or dropping things.


Speech and communication issues: occur for some people living with MND and may present as slurred speech.

Eating and drinking difficulties: may become an issue if swallowing is affected.

Although there is NO CURE for MND, research is ongoing. The average life expectancy is from two to five years from the onset of symptoms.

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