Motor neurone disease and electricity

Susan Aldridge PhD

New research suggests that there may be a link between motor neurone disease and being struck by lightning.
Receiving an electric shock, whether from a lightning strike or faulty electrical equipment, is known to carry a severe risk of cardiac arrest. Now researchers have shown that it may also be linked to motor neurone disease (MND).

It's not known what causes MND - a progressive degenerative disorder of the nervous system, which eventually results in paralysis of all the muscles in the body. The study covers six cases of MND - all of whom had received a shock either from lightning or from an electric cable of up to 380 volts. There was a huge range in the lapse time between the shock and the onset of symptoms - from 18 years to 10 days.

What's significant is that the disease, in each case, began from the point of entry of the shock. In five of the cases, the spinal cord was damaged, as the shock travelled from arm to arm, or arm to leg. It's not yet known what impact this new finding will have on our general understanding of MND.

Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry July 2001 Volume 71 pages 265-7