What is motor neurone disease? Rugby player Doddie Weir dies aged 52

Rugby player Doddie Weir has died aged 52 after being diagnosed with motor neurone disease (MND) in 2016.

In a statement, Weir’s family said: “It is with great sadness that we announce the death of our beloved husband and father, Doddie.

“Doddie was an inspirational force of nature. His unending energy and drive and his strength of character powered him through his rugby and business careers and, we believe, enabled him to fight the effects of MND for so many years.

“Doddie put the same energy and even more love and fun into our lives together; he was a true family man. It is difficult to put into words how much we will miss him.”

Their statement said: “MND took so much from Doddie, but never his spirit and determination. He battled MND so bravely, and whilst his own battle may be over, his fight continues through his foundation until a cure is found for all those with this devastating disease.”

The former Scotland and Lions lock set up a foundation, the My Name’5 Doddie Foundation, to raise money for MND research following his diagnosis.

But what is MND? Find out the symptoms and how it is diagnosed below.

What is motor neurone disease?

Motor neurone disease is a condition that affects the brain and nerves, and causes weakness.

There are treatments that can help people with MND, but there is no cure. It can reduce life expectancy significantly and eventually leads to death.

The condition gradually worsens over time, and things like moving around, swallowing, and breathing become more difficult.

Some people with MND can live for decades with motor neurone disease – for example, Professor Stephen Hawking was diagnosed with MND at the age of 21, but lived to be 76.

What are the symptoms of motor neurone disease?

According to the NHS, symptoms of MND include the following:

  • Weakness in your ankle or leg – you might trip, or find it harder to climb stairs.

  • Slurred speech, which may develop into difficulty swallowing some foods.

  • A weak grip – you might drop things, or find it hard to open jars or do up buttons.

  • Muscle cramps and twitches.

  • Weight loss – your arms or leg muscles may have become thinner over time.

  • Difficulty stopping yourself from crying or laughing in inappropriate situations.

These symptoms can appear gradually and may not be obvious at first. People who experience muscle weakness should see a GP, according to the NHS, as although it is unlikely to be caused by MND, being diagnosed early can help them access the care they need.

Ed Slater, who was diagnosed back in July, said he felt muscle twitches in his arm for 11 months but did not think much about it until it was happening all the time.

He told the BBC: “It was month after month, my arm got weaker and weaker, my grip became weaker, and I went to Oxford and was diagnosed with MND.

“Part of me had prepared for that, partly because of the weakness and partly because of the symptoms.”

What causes motor neurone disease?

Motor neurone disease mostly affects people in their 60s and 70s but it can happen at any age.

It is caused by a problem with nerves and cells in the brain, but it is not known why these cells gradually stop working.

MND does not tend to run in families but having a close relative with the disease can sometimes make someone more likely to get it.

How is motor neurone disease diagnosed?

There is no one test for motor neurone disease but doctors may arrange blood tests, scans of the brain and spine, tests to measure the electrical activity in your muscles and nerves, or a lumbar puncture (also called a spinal tap) to rule out other conditions.

MND can be difficult to diagnose in the early stages.

How is motor neurone disease treated?

Although there is no cure for motor neurone disease, treatment can help reduce its impact.

Treatment includes occupational therapy, physiotherapy, speech and language therapy, advice from dieticians, medication to slow the progression of the condition and to relieve stiffness, and emotional support.