Diagnosis and management of motor neurone disease

Practitioner. 2016 Sep;260(1796):17-21.


Motor neurone disease is a rapidly progressive and fatal neurodegenerative condition which causes progressive weakness, with normal sensation. It can occur at any age but is more frequent with increasing age. Key clinical presentations include bulbar (slurred or difficult speech, problems swallowing, tongue fasciculation), limb (typically in one limb with weakness and muscle wasting), respiratory (breathlessness, chest muscle fasciculation) and cognitive features (behavioural change, emotional lability, features of frontotemporal dementia). Although survival is typically three to five years from symptom onset, there is significant individual variation. Rarely, survival may be 20 years or longer. Favourable features include a limb rather than a bulbar presentation, preserved weight and respiratory function, younger age of onset and longer time from fist symptom to diagnosis. The patient should be linked to a multidisciplinary team able to provide support from the start with a designated individual as the point of contact, with regular, coordinated assessments, as the patient's needs change and their condition progresses. Gastrostomy is an important supportive intervention which maximizes nutrition, and minimizes aspiration and chest infection. Adequate nutrition and hydration is key to maximizing health and survival. It is possible for a patient to control a computer and speech by eye. movement alone. An important consideration is voice banking where the patient may store their voice before there is difficulty with speech so that it can be used at a later stage if they need a communication aid. Impaired cough and retention of respiratory secretions is frequent in the later stages, and may be managed with physiotherapy. The patient should be referred for expert respiratory assessment if needed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Motor Neuron Disease / diagnosis*
  • Motor Neuron Disease / therapy*