Lightning and electric shocks may increase the risk of motor neurone disease

July 18, 2001

Some cases of motor neurone disease may be sparked by an electric shock or lightning, suggests research in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry.

Motor neurone disease is a progressive degenerative disorder, which eventually results in paralysis of the muscles in the body. At present, there is no cure for the disease, and what causes it is still not fully understood.

The authors cite evidence from six different cases referred to their clinic. The ages ranged from 6 to 67, but each of them had had an electric shock either from lightning or an electric cable of up to 380 volts. Symptoms began 18 years after the event in one woman who died two years after they started, but in the others, motor neurone symptoms appeared 10 days to 33 months afterwards.

In all six of them, the disease began at the point of entry of the shock. In five, the spinal cord was damaged, the most common form of injury after an electric shock, and likely to occur when the current travels from arm to arm or from arm to leg. The disease progressed slowly in four of them, but one died of respiratory failure after 9 years. Another recovered after 12 years.

The authors compared their findings with previously reported cases and found striking similarities in symptom and temporal patterns between the published and clinical cases.
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[Motor neurone disease after electric injury 2002; 71: 265-7]

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