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Thursday, 19 July, 2001, 00:15 GMT 01:15 UK
Lightning link to muscle disease
Lightning strike
At present there is no cure for motor neurone disease
Being struck by lightning or getting a severe electric shock could increase your chance of developing motor neurone disease (MND), warn scientists.

French researchers studied people aged between six and 67 who had suffered electric shocks, either from lightning strikes or by coming into contact with electric cables of up to 380 volts.

All developed the disease, which started at the point of entry of the shock.

Although rare, electrical trauma should be more often considered as a possible cause of MND

French scientists
In virtually all of the cases the spinal cord was damaged, the most common form of injury after a shock.

MND is a progressive degenerative disorder for which there is no cure. It eventually results in paralysis of muscles in the body.

The French authors from the Federation de Neurologie, Hospital Gui de Chauliac, Montpellier and Service de Neurologie, in Limoges then compared their findings from six case studies, with previously reported material and found striking similarities in cases.

They said their findings indicated the importance of considering electrical shocks as a cause of the disease.

The report, published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, said: "Although rare, electrical trauma should be more often considered as a possible cause of MND.


"Even if the pathogenic relation between the electrical trauma and motor neurone disease is difficult to ascertain, it is noteworthy that in these cases the disease started at the site of the electrical trauma, and that patients have a mild handicap after several years."

They found that in all but one of the cases that motor neurone symptoms appeared between 10 days and 33 months after their accident.

In the sixth case a woman died two years after the start of her symptoms, which started 18 years after the shock.

The director of research development at the Motor Neurone Disease Association, Dr Brian Dickie, said it was important to note that the type of MND being discussed was one specifically brought on by trauma.


"The authors report a series of cases where a motor neurone syndrome occurred after electric shock or lightning strike.

"The reports of the slow progression of the disease (and even partial remission), the marked involvement of spinal motor neurones and the additional damage to sensory nerves mark this as a rare and distinct variant of MND caused by sudden trauma.

"A relationship between electrical trauma and MND has been proposed on a number of occasions and epidemiological studies do suggest a slightly higher incidence of MND amongst workers in the electrical industry.

"A prior history of electric shock may well damage motor neurones and therefore be a risk factor in MND, but is unlikely to be a direct cause of the disease in all but a few exceptional cases."

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