Early signs of MND
You may be worried that you or someone close has motor neurone disease (MND). As this is not a common disease, it is more likely that another condition, illness or injury has caused the problem. See below for guidance about possible early signs of MND.
In a small number of MND cases, a family history of the disease can be involved. Find out more on our Inherited MND page. See About MND for facts about the disease and Newly diagnosed if you have recently received a diagnosis of MND.
"I found the MND Connect helpline invaluable...we were able to gain knowledge about the condition." Person with MND
With any health concerns, your first contact should be your local doctor or GP. Book an appointment to explain what’s happening and why you are worried.
MND is not a common disease and your GP can usually work out if there is a general health problem or injury.
There may be an obvious cause that is easy to test and treat. If the problem eases and gets better, it is highly unlikely that you will receive a diagnosis of MND.
Where the brain or nervous system is involved, this is known as a neurological problem. If your GP thinks this is possible, you will be referred to a neurologist for examination.
This does not mean you will be diagnosed with MND.
There are many neurological conditions and some share similar symptoms.
Following examination, your neurologist may advise tests if needed. There is no single test to work out if you have MND, but a range of tests can help rule out other causes.
You usually attend any tests as an outpatient, but in some cases you may need to spend a short stay in hospital. Find out more about the possible tests on our page, How is MND diagnosed?
It can be difficult to reach a firm diagnosis of MND in the very early stages, so this process can take time. It may rely on seeing how symptoms progress.
Once you have seen your GP, our MND Connect helpline can provide guidance if needed. The helpline team cannot diagnose, but they can provide information and emotional support.
See below for a brief overview of signs or symptoms that can cause worry. These do not all have to be present at the same time. However, as MND is not a common disease, these symptoms are more likely to be the result of another condition, injury or illness.
As explained in the drop-down option above, it is important to get checked by your GP first. This can take time if your GP needs to see how your symptoms progress.
You may be referred to a variety of specialists, depending on the problems you are having. This can include referral to a neurologist if there is a possible neurological cause.
There are also therapies and treatments that can ease the following symptoms to improve quality of life. These can be offered whatever the cause may be.
Muscle twitching (known as fasciculation)
Twitching or a sensation of rippling under the skin can happen with MND, but also with tiredness, stress, viral infection or general ill health. Sometimes one area of the body twitches, or several areas can twitch at once. Often there is no apparent reason and many people live with twitches for much of their life. Twitching is not usually associated with a neurological condition like MND unless other symptoms are also present.
Tingling or pins and needles
Tingling or pins and needles are associated with some neurological conditions, but not MND. If these sensations are a constant problem, your GP may still refer you to a neurologist if needed, as there could be other reasons why this is happening.
Numbness in hands, feet or limbs
Numbness is associated with some neurological conditions, but not MND. Your GP may still refer you to a neurologist, but there could be a number of other causes.
Fatigue or extreme tiredness
If tiredness is your only symptom, it is unlikely to be due to MND. While MND can make you feel very tired and lethargic, this usually only happens when other MND symptoms have become more obvious.
Tripping and one or both legs getting thinner
When a muscle gets weaker, it usually reduces in size (known as wasting). If your muscles in your feet, ankles or legs grow weak and waste, this can cause tripping or falls. With MND, 'foot drop' can be an early symptom, where one foot sometimes feels weak or drags. However, this could also be due to an injury or another condition. If you have seen your GP about this already, and it does not get better or gets worse, then ask for another examination.
Dropping things due to weak or stiff hands
If you tend to drop things or find it harder to grip, this may indicate a neurological problem, but weak or stiff hands can also be caused by increasing age and joint problems. This can also happen with a trapped nerve.
Slurred or faint speech
speech tends to happen with weakness in muscles of the face, mouth, tongue or throat. Faint speech tends to happen if you feel a little breathless and cannot support the volume of your speech. MND can affect speech and communication in these ways, but other conditions can cause these effects too. With these problems, your GP may refer you to a speech and language therapist.
If swallowing food, drink or saliva starts to cause coughing or gagging, it's particularly important to get this checked. It may or may not be caused by MND, as this symptom can happen with various conditions, but it can impact on your general health. If you find it harder to eat or drink you could become undernourished and lose weight, or dehydrated. You may also get bits of food or drink 'going down the wrong way' into your lungs, which can cause chest infections. Do see your GP if your swallowing problems keep happening, as specialist help is available. You may be referred to a speech and language therapist for a swallowing assessment and a dietitian for advice on nutrition.
MND can affect breathing, but doesn't usually happen as the first symptom. Many other conditions can also cause breathlessness or affect the way your lungs and breathing muscles work. You may be referred to a respiratory team to test your breathing.
Emotional outbursts (known as emotional lability)
Unpredictable emotional responses may be due to a symptom called emotional lability. This could result in uncontrollable laughing when upset or crying when happy. It can feel distressing, as it may happen at inappropriate times. If you have this symptom, do get it checked. Emotional lability can affect some people with MND, but is also linked to other conditions. Whatever the cause, there are ways to ease this, including medication and this symptom is often temporary.
Changes to thinking and behaviour
Up to half of those diagnosed with MND experience some changes to thinking and behaviour with MND, and the number affected increases as MND progresses. This is known as cognitive change. However, the effects are usually mild and do not impact heavily on daily life. 1 in 10 people with MND may have a more severe form, which needs extra support. Sometimes other people notice these changes before the person who has the symptoms. However, these changes happen for other reasons too, such as stress or tiredness, so this does not necessarily indicate a diagnosis of MND. A screening test can help diagnose if there is a problem, which can be done by a neurologist, neuro-psychologist or other health professional trained in cognitive screening.
If you have recently found out that you or someone close to you has MND, see our Newly diagnosed? page. This can help you think about your next steps and find the information you will need, at a pace that feels right for you. See also our About MND hub for more facts about MND.
We provide a wide range of further guidance on this website for people with or affected by MND. This includes resources that you can read online or order as printed copies. We also offer services and support grants.
Contact our MND Connect helpline if you have any questions. The helpline team cannot make or confirm a diagnosis, but can provide information and emotional support, and direct you to our services and external services as needed.