MWOP – Day 3, Catheterisation Lab

On my third day at MWOP I observed what went on in the Catheterisation lab (Cath lab). I found this day very interesting because I’d never fully realised what Cath lab actually included or, in all honesty, what it was. However after observing this area on the third day, it made me understand a lot more about the work done here, and the variety of things that they see.

For anyone who isn’t sure what the Cath Lab is (which included myself before I went on this work experience), it is a clinic in a hospital where diagnostic imaging equipment is used to visualise and look at the arteries and chambers of the heart, and then they work to treat any abnormalities that they find.

In the Cath lab, there were two radiology rooms where all the procedures would take place, and then in the middle was a room where the consultants, doctors and nurses would look at all the images. In the procedure rooms, a catheter, which is essentially a long thin tube with a camera on the end, is fed into the patients heart through a vein, and then those images appear on a screen that the doctors will then look at. They will then look for any abnormalities and see if the problem is significant enough to warrant a procedure. For example, they may look for where the artery walls are too thin, pinched or blocked, and whether it is serious enough for a stent to be inserted to widen the artery.

I saw one patient being rushed in because they were extremely unwell on their ward. They found that one of his arteries was extremely thin which was affecting the oxygen delivery to his heart. They therefore needed a balloon pump to help the heart pump the blood. A balloon pump is a catheter with a balloon on the end of it, and it was inserted into the patient’s aorta. It is just a temporary solution and patients who have it are waned off it over time. So for example, it may inflate for every beat of the heart to start, but then it’ll do it every other heart beat, every three etc, and it is just to aid them until they are ready for surgery.

Something else that is involved in the Cath Lab is deciding when patents need stents in their arteries, to widen them to help oxygen delivery. I was actually able to see quite a few stents being inserted into a number of patients, and it was extremely interesting seeing how they did it, and understanding the different times when one may be required or not.

Overall I found my time observing at the Cath Lab extremely interesting and I learned a lot, as it was a specialty I had not fully recognised before, or understood to its full extent. Therefore I found it really insightful seeing what was involved there. One thing however that I did feel on my morning there was that there wasn’t as much patient contact involved in this specialty, as a lot of it is procedures and looking at the images of the heart. However there was still a lot of variety within the area, as there were a number of different specialities all working together in the same room including radiologists and cardiac surgeons, which shows how that overlap and cross over really does occur across all areas of medicine.

MWOP – Day 2, Respiratory Ward Round

On the morning of my second day at MWOP, I had my first clinical activity and I was on ward rounds. The ward I was observing was the respiratory ward, and I found out so much from my morning there. I must admit I’d never really thought much about that area, and so it was something that I’m so glad I got the chance to see, and it really made me see a bigger and wider side to medicine that I hadn’t properly thought of before.

Whilst I was there, I was shadowing the consultants, and observing what they were doing as they went round the ward talking to each patient individually seeing how they were and discussing the plan of action for them. I was also lucky enough to stand in on their board round that all the consultants, doctors, physiotherapists and nurses undertake before the ward rounds begin. In this they go through each patient and discuss how they are, when they are likely to be able to go home, and what the next step for them is. This is also where they brief each other about any new patients that have come in over night that some of the staff may not yet have met. It made me realise even more how key communication and team work is to medicine, and how things must be explained and discussed with all the appropriate people properly, to make sure all are aware and to create the most effective work.

One thing one of the consultants explained to me that I found extremely insightful as I’d never properly stopped to consider it before, was the social care side of medicine, and the difficulty of getting people home when there are external factors such as funding and care packages to be put in place. This is especially prevalent where patients need continuing care or have a chronic illness, which is something that will need medicating for the rest of their lives, or at least for the long term. For example, the consultant explained how there was one patient who was in hospital for 300 days, but the actual medicine side was sorted in a week, but because of funding issues with social care and ongoing medication they would need, they could not be sent home. It is a very common issue, and is something doctors have to deal with daily, which I had not properly realised before and so was invaluable information to me.

Something else I learned on the respiratory ward was the overlap in medicine, with both the cross over between specialties, and also the overlap between illnesses where one problem can cause/affect another.

I saw these overlaps with how their was one patient who had lung cancer, which caused breathing problems. But the cancer had also spread to their bones which caused the bones to crumble, which compressed a bundle of nerves at the base of their spine, meaning they had trouble with mobility and moving their legs. This made me realise how one problem can cause so many others, and how many different specialist doctors can be involved in the treatment process. For example, this certain patient may have required a respiratory consultant, an oncologist and physiotherapist among many other specialised doctors and nurses. This opened my eyes to not only the overlap with illnesses, but also how closely different specialties can work together, and how there are so many different people who are all key to a patient’s recovery and getting them the proper treatment.

The other thing that surprised me was the range of different respiratory-related illnesses there were, and the range of causes there was for it. The main issue seemed to be because of people’s social choices, for example smoking, their diet and how active they are. The consultant explained to me how this itself creates issues, as even after the doctors have done all they can, if the patient isn’t willing to adapt or change their lifestyle, the problem is likely to recur and so the patient may need treatment again in the future.

Overall, I found the second day of MWOP extremely fascinating, and it opened my eyes and mind to so many different aspects of medicine that I had not fully considered before. Seeing those aspects has now made me appreciate the role of doctors and consultants, and all health workers in general, a lot more and made me see how much variety and overlap there is, and not everything is so black and white as people may at first think.

MWOP – Day 1

Every day at MWOP was split into two sections. We would have a clinical observation every morning and then a lecture-based activity in the afternoon. However, on the first day the morning consisted entirely of an induction which was extremely interesting, and of course very important. They went over the essentials such as hand washing, fire safety, confidentiality, time management and the basic rules of conduct in a hospital environment. Seeing as most of us had not been in such a situation before, it was information that was invaluable to us and is something that applies not only to medicine but to general life, and will come in handy in the future.

In the afternoon we did some small clinical workshops. We were taught about cannulation and how to correctly insert a cannular into a patient. We were also taught how blood is taken and were able to practice on dummies! We were taught CPR and the correct way to deal with a situation outside of a hospital environment when someone is unconscious and may require CPR. I found this especially interesting as it is something that could be needed at any time and we could come across at any point in our lives, and could mean saving someone’s life. We also were taught how to suture, and were able, again, to practice on dummies, and it felt amazing actually trying some of the practical medicine, as it’s something I’ve never had the opportunity to do before.

We also looked at different parts of the anatomy on a 3D screen, where we were shown what different organs and parts of the body looked like, and their position in relation to one another.

Overall I found the first day was a vital opening introduction, and allowed us to understand the professional side and reality of working and being in a hospital environment. It also gave us valuable time to get to know each other, as we would all be working together for the week, and so it helped to build out team work and communication skills which are so vital in not only medicine, but also day to day life in general. We were also able to develop our problem solving skills on this first morning as we were given certain activities to do in a group throughout the day which was extremely interesting and useful to learn.

 

 

Medical Work Observation Programme (MWOP)

From the 17th of July to the 21st July I had the amazing opportunity of attending the Medical Work Observation Programme (MWOP) 2017 at Cardiff Heath Hospital. I had such an eye opening week there, and was able to shadow doctors and see what type of work they do on a day to day basis. I was also able to get an insight into the variation that exists within medicine and also the overlap between different specialties and areas. I found this extremely interesting as I feel it’s something that is not recognised as much, as people often think specialists work only in one area and that they only see one specific thing, but that actually within medicine there can be overlaps with almost everything, and doctors can come across people will illnesses that cross a number of different specialities, not just the one they are in. Seeing how the doctors and surgeons deal with that, how medicine is affected by it, and how the different specialties work together was really interesting to see.

My time at MWOP made my passion to become a doctor even more intensified, as I found the work that all the doctors did so fascinating, and it really made me realise how much I would appreciate the role. I found it so admiring how hard all the staff of the hospital worked and how much they had to do, and also how there are a lot of external and social factors that come into medicine, that I had perhaps not fully appreciated before.

I wrote a short diary entry for every day that I spent at MWOP, which will be featured shortly following this post, where I go into more detail about what areas of medicine I was lucky enough to see, and what I learned and discovered from my time there.

Pharmacy Work Experience

During my week of half term I did work experience at a Pharmacy, and it has been so interesting, and it has honestly been one of the best experiences of my life. I did it at Central Pharmacy in Cardiff, and I worked from 10am to 4pm. The people there were so lovely and treated me so well and I learnt so much!

During my time at the Pharmacy I was observing what the pharmacisits and workers do on a day to day basis. I was watching how they deal with tricky prescriptions, how they process them and check they’re accurate and also what can and cannot be sold over the counter at a given time.

I also got heavily involved, taking people’s prescriptions and handing them to the pharmacists for them to make, and then giving them back out, ensuring the right ones were going to the right person. I helped to file repeat perscriptions too, and was able to take orders from people who wanted to put in a new order for their repeats. Furthermore, I was shown how to dispose of unwanted or out of date medication safely, for example if patients had brought spare medication back, and so I now know how they should be gotten rid of safely and effectively. I was on the till quite a lot as well, so customers could buy over-the-counter medication and any beauty products etc that the Pharmacy sold. I found all of this extremely useful and interesting as not only did I learn all about the medical side of things such as the processing and handing out of the prescriptions, what can and can’t be sold together and over the counter and how to dispose and handle medication, I also was able to learn more ways of how to deal with people, patients and customers, as there were so many different people I would encounter every day at the pharmacy. I was also observing the whole workings of the Pharmacy in general whilst I was there too, and that in itself was so interesting and useful to me.

At least two times a day the Pharmacy would always receive a delivery of the medication needed for the prescriptions for the patients, and this would need to be unloaded and restocked ready to give to the patients, and often people would return the same day after 3pm to collect it, so all of this had to be done quickly and efficiently, and I found this so interesting to observe.

There were often challenges that the Pharmacy would face. For example, if someone got the wrong prescription, and I was able to observe how they dealt with that and what had to be done. They would usually have to contact the surgery to get the correct information, as I learnt they could only give the patient what their doctor/surgeon had prescribed them, and nothing else.

Something else I learnt is that regular patients have to have a yearly review with the pharmasist to make sure they understand what they need to be taking, why and how they should be taking it. I found that extremely interesting as I never realised that had to be done before.

I learnt that when someone orders a repeat prescription it usually takes about 4-5 days for them to receive it, and when that time comes they get contacted for them to come in, unless they’ve asked for it to be delivered. However, in some cases such as if the patient is running extremely low on their medication and they need it, or they are going away and so need to stock up, then orders can be brought in earlier. I also got the amazing opportunity to go along to the surgeries too with one of the workers, which they do every day to pick up the prescriptions for that day that had been ordered 4-5 days previously. I saw how the pharmacists sit down and cross reference all the prescriptions with the doctors to ensure that everything was correct, and for the doctors to tell them if there had been any queries about any of the medication that had been prescribed, for example if too much or too little had been prescribed.

I cannot express my gratitude enough for being able to have this opportunity! It was so valuable and interesting and I know it has helped me so much. I truly believe it has also helped me on my journey to medicine because I was able to see another side of medicine, the pharmaceutical and drug-based side and it interested me so much. It was so eye-opening seeing how the Pharmacy works with the surgeries and GP’s and how they all interlink, and there was so much more to it than I ever thought.

Volunteering at Dragonflies, an after school club

Whilst I was in year 10 I volunteered at a children’s after school club, in Lakeside Primary School, called Dragonflies. I helped there for 6 months. Dragonflies is a place where the children can go after school when their parents are working and cannot pick them up straight away at the end of the school day. I went once a week after school for an hour and helped to look after the children who attended the club, and made sure that they were happy and having fun, whilst ensuring they were behaving and learning at the same time.

There were a range of activities that we did with the children on a regular basis including drawing, playing outside, cooking, playing group games or anything to that effect.

I learnt a lot whilst volunteering at Dragonflies. I developed my team work skills hugely as I was working with the other workers to ensure that the children were playing safely and behaving whilst also having fun. We had to organise games and activities and make sure that it was always noted who exactly was there and what time they left as there were children being picked up all at different times. This therefore greatly improved my organisational skills as I helped make sure all of that was being recorded and that all was safe and in order.

I also developed skills with how to deal with children and know the best possible ways of helping them to understand what to do, make sure they are happy and ensuring they stay well behaved. I tried to develop bonds with them in order to make them feel comofortable around me so they knew they could come to me for help and if they needed anything, or even if they just wanted a chat, as the whole purpose of the club was to make sure they were happy and having fun.

Caution and risk assessments had to be undertaken as activities such as cooking were undertaken, to ensure that the children were safe and any possible hazards and risks were dealt with. Also, as we were providing food and snacks for them we had to ensure that any allergies or food requirements were noted and that the children with those requirements were getting the right treatment and food, which required organisation, caution and communication.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome is a common disorder that affects the large intestine. It is a long term condition that has to be dealt with by the sufferer as part of their every day lives as it will effect them in the long run. I have taken an interest in this condition as we thought that my sister had this at one point, but it ended up being bruising of the colon. However this has made me want to know more about the condition and what people who suffer from it have to go through.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of Irritable Bowel syndrome vary from time to time, being worse at some times than others, for example when you are under a lot of stress. The key symptoms are:

  • cramping
  • abdominal pain
  • bloating
  • gas
  • diarrhea
  • constipation

People with IBS can often also experience times of depression and anxiety as it can be very tough on people’s lives and can very painful and debilitating.

These symptoms are not usually constant and can be relieved by going to the toilet, and therefore easing your bowels. They are usually aggrevated at different times, when people experience flare ups, and that can be caused by a number of things.

Causes of IBS

Although the official cause of IBS is unknown, there are lots of triggers that can aggravate it and make it worse. These include:

  • Stress
  • Diet
  • Female Hormonal Triggers*
  • Medicine Triggers*

*Female Hormonal Triggers – In my research I found that women are much more likely to suffer from irritable bowel syndrome than men are, and that it is particularly bad for women  when they have their period, which suggests that it is hormones that women have and men do not that can often cause flare ups.

*Medicine Triggers – If you are taking certain tablets, painkillers or antibiotics then these can make IBS worse, trigger it or give you some of the symptoms.

What are the treatments?

Although the condition is a long term one, it can improve and become less of an issue over time. It’s not clear what causes irritable bowel syndrome and therefore there isn’t really a known cure for it, however there are treatments that can be used to give some relief and ease the pain. The best way to deal with the condition is find ways to relieve stress and making changes to your lifestyle and diet. Here are foods that can help to ease and prevent the symptoms:

  • Getting rid of/reducing amount of high-gas foods (carbonated drinks and certain vegetables and raw fruits)
  • Getting rid of/reducing amount of gluten (wheat being a key one)
  • Exercise Regularly
  • Discover and eliminate any stress triggers

The best option is to talk to your doctor and they will be able to advise you on the best things to avoid and the best things to eat to target and help your own version of the condition, as different people will react differently to different types of food and methods etc.

This post was just a brief overview of irritable bowel syndrome and the symptoms, causes and treatments of it, and I hope you have found it interesting and enjoyed reading.

What Have I Learnt?

For me, something I have learnt which I never knew before was that women are more likely to get IBS than men are, and it may be hormones they have that aggregate it. I feel like learning all of this has really helped me understand the condition more, and although this wasn’t what my sister had, I can see what she went through more and what other people with the condition have to go through experience.

Sources of my research:

http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Irritable-bowel-syndrome/Pages/Introduction.aspx

https://www.buscopan.co.uk/irritable-bowel-syndrome/do-you-have-ibs/causes-of-ibs/

Arthritis

Another condition that I have always been interested in, and causes an issue with lots of people, is Arthritis. I’ve known lots of people who have had Arthritis and it can affect people of all ages and in lots of different ways.

What Is Arthritis
What Are the Symptoms of Arthritis
Arthritis in Children
Causes of Arthritis
Treatments for Arthritis

What is Arthritis

Arthritis is a common condition that causes pain and inflammation in a joint. In my research I found that 1 in 5 people aged over 18 get arthritis and almost 300,000 babies and children have arthritis or a rheumatic condition. Having arthritis can stop you from doing basic things such as holding things, walking up stairs, or walking in general, depending on what type of arthritis you have and what part of your body it affects. It’s a life changing disease and I cannot even begin to imagine how hard life must be for someone with the condition.

You can get arthritis in any joint and there are lots of different types of arthritis that you can get, but the two most common types are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis and usually affects people aged 40 and over. It’s especially common in women and tends to have a history of effecting family in the past. This type of arthritis makes movement extremely difficult and can cause a lot of stiffness and pain as it damages the cartilage that lines the joint.

Rheumatoid arthritis most commonly affects people between the age of 40 and 50, and in my research I found that women are three times more likely to be affected by this type of arthritis than men are. It occurs when the body’s immune system targets affected joints, which leads to pain and swelling and it can cause bone and cartilage to break down. People with rheumatoid arthritis can also develop problems with other tissues and organs in their body.

What are the Symptoms

There are lots of different types of arthritis that you can get, and the symptoms vary depending on which variation you have.

Here are some of the general symptoms of Arthritis:

    • Early morning joint stiffness
    • Fatigue
    • A general feeling of being unwell
    • Weight loss
    • Mild fevers or night sweats
    • Skin rashes
    • Joint pain
    • Inflammation in and around the joints
    • Restricted movement of the joints
    • Warm, red skin over the affected joint
    • Weakness and muscle wasting

Arthritis in children

As you can see, arthritis seems to be most common with people aged 40 and above, but it is common for young children to have it too. The types that tend to affect children more are known as juvenile arthritis. This type of arthritis occurs when there is inflammation of the synovium. The synovium is the soft tissue that lines the spaces of diarthrodial joints, tendon sheaths, and bursae.

Bursae – small fluid-filled sacs that cushion a joint

Tendon Sheath – a membrane around a tendon that permits the tendon to stretch

Diathrodial Joints – The most common and movable type of joint

Juvenile arthritis is an autoimmune disease, which means that the immune system attacks the body causing the condition to occur. Although there is no known cause for juvenile arthritis, in my research I found that many believe it is related to a mixture of genetics, certain infections, and environmental triggers.

There are four main different types of Juvenile Arthritis. These are:

  • Oligo-articular (most common)
  • Polyarthritis
  • Systemic onset
  • Enthesitis-related arthritis

Oilgo-articular – most commonly affects the knees, ankles and wrists. One major risk of this type of arthritis is that the child may develop eye problems.

Polyarthritis – This type has similar symptoms to that of adult rheumatoid arthritis. Some symptoms include rashes on the skin and high temperatures.

Systematic – This type has quite a few symptoms. It starts with rashes, fever and a sense of lethargy and tiredness, and then can develop into the swelling and inflammation of joints.

Enthesitis-related arthritis – Most commonly affects older boys and teenagers. The symptoms include pain in the sole of the feet and around the knee and hip joints.

Causes of Arthritis

Although not all causes of arthritis are known, the potential causes include:

      • Injury
      • Abnormal metabolism
      • Inheritance
      • Infections 
      • Immune system dysfunction
      • Smoking
      • Occupations which are very physically demanding

Treatments of Arthritis

At the moment there is no known cure for arthritis, but there are lots of different treatments that people with arthritis can have in order to try and relieve the symptoms and make day to day life easier for them. Some general suggestions for treatment for arthritis include the following (although treatment does depend on the individual’s type of arthritis and the symptoms they have individually):

  • Painkillers
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
  • Joint replacement
  • Joint fusion
  • Cutting and re-aligning the bone
  • Physiotherapy
  • Exercise
  • Disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs

Overall, in my research about the condition I have found out a lot about arthritis, and it is such a complex disease which can affect so many people in many different ways. Personally, something I learnt that I’d never known before was that children could get arthritis as well, and I learnt about the different types of arthritis they can get and how it affects them. I hope this post has also helped you to learn more about the disease as well, and I hope you have found it interesting. Thank you for reading 🙂

Asthma

Asthma is a major respiratory condition that affects one in every 11 people and can affect people of all ages. My family have a history of asthma, and that is one reason why I have wanted to research more into the condition, as well as wanting to find out more about it and what can be done to help it. I don’t have asthma myself however I do suffer from some of the symptoms such as a tight chest and struggle breathing occasionally, and so this is one that I do have some experience with.

What is Asthma

Asthma is a common lung condition that causes occasional breathing difficulties. It is a chronic disease of the airways that makes it hard for the sufferer to breathe. With asthma, there is inflammation of the air passages that results in a temporary narrowing of the airways that carry oxygen to the lungs. This results in coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and chest tightness. For some people asthma is a condition they have to deal with all of their lives, whereas others do grow out of
it.

Symptoms of asthma

The main symptoms of asthma are:

  • Wheezing
  • Breathlessness
  • Tight chest
  • Coughing

People with asthma may have times when these symptoms intensify and get worse, and this is when they usually experience an asthma attack.

In my research I also found that asthma can also have other affects on someone, and here is a list of some of the affects it can have:

  • Persistent tiredness
  • Underperformance or absence from work or school
  • Psychological problems – including stress, anxiety and depression
  • Disruption to your work and leisure because of unexpected visits to your GP or hospital
  • Lung infections 
  • Delays in growth or puberty in children

What is an Asthma Attack

An asthma attack is a sudden worsening of asthma symptoms caused by the tightening of muscles around your airways. An asthma attack can be triggered by exposure to an allergen, such as trees, grass or weed pollen, dust mites, cockroaches or animal dander. Other common triggers are irritants in the air, such as smoke or chemical fumes, and also strong odours such as perfume.

Causes of Asthma

The reasons for an individual developing asthma isn’t completely known currently, however there is a link that one is more likely to develop asthma if they have a close relative who has also suffered from it. All that is currently known is that asthma is caused by something that makes the breathing tubes swell so it is harder for them to carry air in and out of the lungs.

Types of Asthma

Here are the 6 different types of asthma and what causes them:

  • Allergic asthma –  occurs when an allergy sets off an asthma flare up.
  • Asthma without allergies – usually an upper respiratory infection (cold, flu, and rhinovirus) sets off their asthma.
  • Aspirin Exacerbated Respiratory Disease – triggered by aspirin
  • Exercise induced asthma – when any type of physical exertion or sports leads to coughing, difficulty breathing and chest tightness that improves when they stop the exertion.
  • Cough variant – characterized by a dry hacking cough. It can occur while awake or asleep.
  • Occupational asthma – Irritant induced asthma. Usually from smoke or inhaled irritants like chlorine.

Treatments for Asthma

Unfortunately at the moment there is no known cure for asthma, but there are different ways the symptoms can be dealt with, and treatments that can help too. Here is a list of some of the ways asthma can be treated:

  • Identifying and avoiding asthma triggers
  • Inhalers – reliever and preventer inhalers

The most common treatment is for the patient to be prescribed with an inhaler. There are two different types of inhaler and the one a patient is given depends on their specific type of asthma and how it affects them.

Reliever Inhalers – These inhalers are usually blue and they give the sufferer on-the-spot relief from their asthma symptoms, such as when they are short of breath. They give quick relief for a short time. If you have asthma you should keep your inhaler with you at all times, and take it whenever you feel your symptoms worsening such as when you start to experience wheezing, breathing struggles, tight chest and coughing.

How do reliever inhalers work? – They work by helping to get the medicine straight to the lungs, so it can quickly relax the muscles surrounding your airways. The airways open more widely, therefore making it easier to breathe again.

Preventer Inhalers – They contain a low dose of steroid medicine called corticosteroids. This medicine works over time, and are used every day on a regular basis, to help prevent asthma symptoms occurring, by reducing sensitivity, swelling and inflammation in the airways. Preventer inhalers are most commonly brown but can also be red, pink, purple, orange or yellow. In my research I found that you should use your preventer inhaler even if you’re feeling well because it builds up your asthma protection over time, and if you stop taking it, you’ll not get the full benefits, and will be more likely to react to asthma triggers. A preventer inhaler is a preventative treatment, so it will not help during an asthma attack which is when your reliever inhaler is needed, and is why you need it on you at all times. Generally, you should take your preventer inhaler at least twice a day, once in the morning and once at night.

How do preventer inhalers work? – The preventer inhaler works by helping the medicine get right into your airways so it can work where it’s needed to prevent and reduce the swelling and inflammation in your airways. This means that when you come into contact with an asthma trigger, your lungs are less likely to react as they will be less sensitive.

Overall, I have found that asthma is a more complex condition than I first thought. One thing I have personally discovered that I didn’t know before is that asthma can have all these other affects to the body, other than the typical symptoms of tight chest and struggle breathing, such as that it can cause lung infections and can actually delay growth and puberty in children. I hope you have found this post useful and interesting, and once again I thank you so much for taking the time to read 🙂

 

Motor Neurone Disease

One condition that I have always been interested in learning more about is Motor Neuron Disease. Stephen Hawking has Motor Neurone Disease and I am currently reading his book A Brief History in Time (which is such an amazing book and I find it so mind boggling and eye-opening) and this, along with the amazing film ‘A theory of Everything’  and this has made me want to know more about the disease that Stephen Hawking has. I hope to be able to understand more about the science behind the disease, how it has affected Stephen Hawkking as well as to hopefully be able to at least start to understand what life for him must be like living with the disease. Therefore, I have decided to write this post in order to learn more about the condition myself, to understand what a person with the condition has to go through, and also to hopefully raise more awareness of the disease.

What is Motor Neurone Disease?

Motor Neurone Disease is a very rare condition and can take on many forms. It’s a progressive disease which means that the disease gets worse, grows or spreads over time. This may happen until death, serious debility, or organ failure occurs. To define in a more concise way what the disease is and how it affects people who have it, is that it is the degeneration of the motor neurons and wasting away of the muscles.

What are motor neurones?

A neurone is a specialized cell transmitting nerve impulses. There are three main types of neurones which are; sensory neurones, motor neurones and interneurones. Each have a different function in the nervous system, and when any one of them is damaged they all have different significant effects on the body. The one concerned with motor neurone disease is the motor neurone which sends information away from the central nervous system to muscles or glands.

Motor neurones control very important and key muscle activity. Therefore, when someone has motor neurone disease and those neurones are damaged it becomes extremely difficult for the sufferer to do lots of basic every day things such as walking, speaking, swallowing, gripping and even breathing.

What are the Types of Motor Neurone Disease?

There are four main types of Motor Neurone Disease, each of which depends on the pattern of motor neurone involvement and the part of the body where the symptoms begin. Here are the four main types:

  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
  • Progressive bulbar palsy (PBP)
  • Progressive muscular atrophy (PMA)
  • Primary lateral sclerosis (PLS)

ALS – This is the most common form of the disease. It is characterised by weakness and wasting in the limbs.

PBP- This is a less common form of the disease that effects about 1/4 of people diagnosed. With this form of the disease, people may find it hard to swallow and find that their speech is slurred.

PMA – This form of the disease only affects a small proportion of people. With PMA early symptoms may be noticed as weakness or clumsiness of the hand.

PLS – This is an extremely rare form of Motor Neurone Disease causing mainly weakness in the lower limbs, although some people may experience clumsiness in the hands or speech problems.

What are the Symptoms?

Motor Neurone Disease has many major and extremely painful symptoms. In my research I found that the symptoms begin gradually over weeks and months, usually on one side of the body initially, and get progressively worse. Here are some of the symptoms I found in my research:

  • a weakened grip, which can cause difficulty picking up or holding objects
  • weakness at the shoulder that makes lifting the arm difficult
  • a “foot drop” caused by weak ankle muscles
  • dragging of the leg
  • slurred speech
  • stumbling due to weakness of the leg muscles
  • difficulty holding objects due to weakness of the hand muscles
  • slurring of speech or swallowing difficulties due to weakness of the tongue and throat muscles
  • cramps and muscle twitching

I have read that Motor Neurone Disease isn’t usually painful but as damage progresses, symptoms spread to other parts of the body and the condition becomes more debilitating eventually, a person with the disease may be unable to move and communicating, swallowing and breathing may also become very difficult.

What are the Causes?

Before we can look at how Motor Neurone Disease can be treated, it is important to first consider what the causes are, as this is often the basis of understanding any disease. The cause is when motor neurones in the brain and spinal cord progressively lose their function. However it is not clear when it happens and what it is that causes those neurone to lose their function. Generally it is not a genetic disease, so you are unlikely to find previous family members of someone with Motor Neurone Disease to also have the disease. Most researchers have found that the causes tend to be a mixture of damaging genetic and environmental factors and as we get older we find it increasingly difficult to control the damage, causing permanent neuro-degeneration.

How can it be Treated?

At the moment there is no known cure for Motor Neurone Disease, however there are different treatments that can be given to help a person with the condition to increase their quality of life and to try and slow down the diseases progression. For example, physiotherapy can be used to help relieve muscle cramps. Also, sometimes breathing masks can be used to relieve the symptoms of breathing issues and weakness. Patients can also have a feeding tube and can also have medication to help with any drooling issues they may have. So, overall there is no set cure for the disease, but a lot can be done to help make life easier for the person with the disease, and to help them manage and control the symptoms more.

Motor Neurone Disease is an extremely complex disease and can affect people in so many ways. It completely changes the way someone with the disease lives their lives. There is not yet any cure, but hopefully in time and as the disease gets more recognition and research, advancements will be made and more will be understood. I hope you found this post helpful, I found it so interesting researching the disease and found out so much about it and I hope you have too. Thank you for reading 🙂