Muscular dystrophy is a group of inherited, progressive muscle disorders. All forms cause progressive weakness and degeneration of the muscles that control movement. Some also affect the heart or other organs. Age of onset is between infancy to adulthood. The different forms include: Duchenne dystrophy (the most common)Becker (a milder form than Duchenne)Myotonic muscular dystrophy (can have its onset in late adulthood)
This condition is caused by defects in genes that control muscle development and function. In some cases, the genes are passed from parent to child. In other cases, the genetic mutation occurs spontaneously.
These factors increase your chance of developing muscular dystrophy. Tell your doctor if you have any of these risk factors: Family member with muscular dystrophySex: male for some types (Duchenne and Becker)
Symptoms common to most forms of muscular dystrophy may include:
Initial symptoms: Progressive weakening of muscles—Usually, those muscles closest to the trunk become weak first. Then, muscles further away weaken as the disease advances.Enlargement of muscles as they weakenClumsinessFrequent falling and difficulty getting up
Later symptoms: Severe muscle deterioration, usually leading to use of a wheelchairDistortion of the bodyMuscle contraction and stiffening (often severe)Difficulty breathing
Severe Muscle Contraction of the Hand
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Symptoms specific to Duchenne and Becker dystrophy include: Abnormally curved spineEnlargement and weakening of the heart musclePneumonia
and other respiratory infections
Symptoms specific to myotonic muscular dystrophy include: Difficulty in letting go after a handshakeMuscle weakness that affects the central nervous system, heart, digestive tract, glands, or eyes
Symptoms usually become progressively worse. In many forms, life expectancy is shortened.
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. She will also do a physical exam.
Tests may include:
—removal of a sample of muscle tissue for testing
Blood enzyme tests—testing a blood sample to look for elevated enzyme levelsGenetic testing-using blood samplesElectromyogram (EMG)
—measures electrical impulses coming from muscles
Nerve conduction study (NCS)
—measures electrical impulses in the nerves
There is no cure. However, treatment may help improve the symptoms.
Treatment may consist of:
Physical therapy and exercise can help prevent the muscles from permanently contracting and stiffening.
In earlier stages, wearing braces may improve your ability to move around. A back brace may slow curvature of the spine.
Medicines may include: Corticosteroids to relieve muscle weakness (chronic steroids can also cause muscle injury called “steroid myopathy”)Creatine
supplements (shown to reduce fatigue and increase strength in some studies)
Drugs for heart problems if muscular dystrophy affects the heart
Much research is being done in this area. A new technique called “gene transfer” therapy has been used with some good early results in certain forms of dystrophy.
In severe cases, surgery may be needed to release muscles that are painfully tight. If there are heart problems, a
may be needed.
Muscular dystrophy is an inherited disease. Get genetic counseling if you are concerned about having a child with muscular dystrophy, especially if you: Have muscular dystrophy or a family history of the diseaseMay be a carrier of the gene for muscular dystrophyHave a partner with a family history of the disease
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Updated January 27, 2009. Accessed February 6, 2009.
Last reviewed [Under Medical Review] by Lawrence Frisch, MD, MPH
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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