Home About MND Brief guide to MND

Brief guide to MND

The French Neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot first described motor neurone disease (MND) in 1874. The term motor neurone disease describes a group of related diseases, affecting the motor nerves or neurones in the brain and spinal cord, which pass messages to the muscles telling them what to do.

What does it affect?

MND is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that attacks the upper and lower motor neurones.

Degeneration of the motor neurones leads to weakness and wasting of muscles, causing increasing loss of mobility in the limbs, and difficulties with speech, swallowing and breathing.

The muscles first affected tend to be those in the hands, feet and mouth, dependent on which type of the disease you are diagnosed with.

MND does not usually affect the senses (sight, sound, touch) or the bladder and bowel. Some people may experience changes in thinking and behaviour, often referred to as cognitive impairment, but only a few will experience severe cognitive change.

The effects of MND can vary enormously from person to person, from the presenting symptoms, and the rate and pattern of the disease progression, to the length of survival time after diagnosis.


Motor neurone disease can be extremely difficult to diagnose for several reasons:

  • The early symptoms can be quite slight, such as clumsiness, mild weakness or slightly slurred speech, all of which can be attributed to other reasons. It can be some time before someone feels it necessary to see a GP
  • The disease affects each individual in a different way, so there is no definitive set of symptoms.

There is no specific way of testing for MND, which means diagnosis requires the elimination of other potential conditions. See Tests.

Who is at risk of developing MND?

In recent years there is evidence to suggest the incidence of motor neurone disease (MND) is increasing. This could possibly be due to:

  • more accurate diagnostic testing
  • people are generally living for longer and MND is more common in older people.

MND can affect any adult at any age but most people diagnosed with the disease are over the age of 40, with the highest incidence occurring between the ages of 50 and 70.

Men are affected approximately twice as often as women, but this can vary depending on the type of MND and evens out with age, at about 70.

MND statistics

It is difficult to be exact, but statistics for motor neurone disease tell us that:

  • A person’s lifetime risk of developing MND is up to 1 in 300
  • Six people per day are diagnosed with MND in the UK
  • It affects up to 5,000 adults in the UK at any one time
  • Around 35% 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% of people with MND show signs of frontotemporal dementia which results in more pronounced behavioural change
  • It kills a third within a year and more than half within two years of diagnosis
  • It kills six people per day in the UK, this is just under 2,200 per year.

What causes MND?

Each individual may be affected by a different combination of triggers, both genetic and environmental, which makes it very difficult to determine precise markers for the disease. If you would like to know more about developments within research, you may wish to refer to our research pages and information about the causes of the disease.

Information for download

You may find the following publications useful:

  • Living with motor neurone disease (1188kb)
    Our main guide for people with MND, providing an overview of the disease and how to manage its impact. This can be downloaded or ordered as a printed pack with additional items from our helpline, MND Connect. The guide has been developed to help people with MND achieve the best possible quality of life from diagnosis onwards. It includes top tips, directions to further information and details about accessing support services. (Code: LW002)
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