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About MND

About MND

Motor neurone disease (MND) describes a group of diseases that affect motor neurons in the brain and spinal cord.

Motor neurons are cells that transmit electrical messages to tell your muscles what to do. MND gradually stops these messages reaching the muscles.

Types of MND

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) - The most common form of MND in adults, known as ‘Lou Gehrig’s disease’ in the USA. ALS causes muscle weakness, muscle stiffness and cramps. Later, it affects people’s movement, walking, speech, breathing and ability to swallow. Some people also experience changes to their thinking and behaviour. ALS affects everyone differently, and not all symptoms will affect everyone, or develop in the same order or at the same speed.

The condition is life-shortening and currently there is no cure or effective treatment.

Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) - A type of MND that affects children and young adults.  It causes progressive muscle wastage, and loss of mobility. There are three grades of the condition. Type one is the most severe. It is detected when a baby is very young and can be fatal. Types two and three are less severe and are detected in older babies and young children.

Less common types of MND are:

Progressive bulbar palsy (PBP) – A less common type of MND that mainly affects the muscles of the face, throat and tongue.

Progressive muscular atrophy (PMA) – Affecting only a small proportion of people, PMA symptoms include muscle wasting, weakness and twitches.

Primary lateral sclerosis (PLS) – A rare form of MND that progresses slowly and mainly causes weakness in the lower limbs.


The causes of MND are not yet fully known, although many researchers worldwide are trying to find out.

There are likely to be many different causes of MND, including combinations of genetic ‘risk factors’ and environment or lifestyle ‘triggers’. While we now know some of the genes involved, we do not have conclusive evidence about the effect of any lifestyle factors.

Approximately 8% of people living with MND (ALS) in Scotland have reported a family history of the condition.* In these families, genes are likely to play a bigger role. This percentage is roughly the same as that reported for other countries around the world.

MND fast facts

  • MND can affect adults of any age, but usually people are 50 years old or older when they become affected.
  • The disease is slightly more common in men than women, but this evens out with age.

The following facts relate to the most common form of MND, ALS^.

  • Approximately 400 people are living with MND in Scotland at any one time.
  • Around 200 people are newly diagnosed in Scotland each year. That’s four per week!
  • The number of people living with MND in Scotland is about the same as that in other countries.
  • Average life expectancy in Scotland is 16 months from the time of diagnosis, with one in ten (9.5%) living for 5 years of more past diagnosis.
  • 1 in every 472 women and 1 in every 350 men will be diagnosed with MND in the UK in their lifetime.

For more detailed information on MND visit the websites of MND Scotland, the MND Association or the SMA Trust.



*Data from CARE-MND register on 20/3/2018 based on 585 people living with MND.

^MND Fast Facts supported by data from the CARE-MND register as at 20/3/2018