DefinitionMuscular 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, which is the most common
- Becker dystrophy, which is a milder form of Duchenne dystrophy
- Myotonic muscular dystrophy, which can begin in late adulthood
- Facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy, which affects the muscles of the face, shoulder blades, and upper arms
- Congenital muscular dystrophy, which is diagnosed on or near birth and results in overall muscle weakness
- Distal muscular dystrophy, which affects the distal muscles of the lower arms, hands, lower legs, and feet
- Emery-Dreifuss muscular dystrophy, which affects the muscles of the shoulders, upper-arms, and calf muscles
- Limb-girdle muscular dystrophy, which affects the muscles around the hips and shoulders
- Oculopharyngeal muscular dystrophy, which affects swallowing and the ability to keep the eyes open
CausesThis 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.
Risk FactorsThese factors increase your chance of developing muscular dystrophy. Tell your doctor if you have any of these risk factors:
- Family member with muscular dystrophy
- Sex: males are at increased risk for Duchenne dystrophy and Becker dystrophy
SymptomsEach type of muscular dystrophy has its own unique symptoms. For example, the muscles that are affected may differ depending upon the type.Symptoms common to most forms of muscular dystrophy may include:Initial symptoms:
- Progressive weakening of muscles
- Enlargement of muscles as they weaken
- Muscle cramping
- Frequent falling and difficulty getting up
- Muscle contraction and stiffening
- Muscle deterioration
|Severe Muscle Contraction of the Hand|
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- Initial symptoms:
- Usually muscles closest to the trunk become weak first. Then, muscles further away weaken as the disease advances.
- Enlargement of calf muscles as they weaken
- Later symptoms
- Abnormally curved spine
- Respiratory infections
- Severe muscle deterioration, usually leading to use of a wheelchair
- Difficulty breathing
- Muscle contraction and stiffening—often severe
- Distortion of the body
- Reduced intelligence
- Difficulty letting go after a handshake
- Reduced intelligence
- Excessive sleeping
DiagnosisThe doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.Your blood may be tested for evidence of muscle damageA muscle biopsy will identify the type of muscular dystrophyYour muscles and nerves may be tested. This can be done with:
TreatmentThere is no cure for muscular dystrophy. However, treatment may help improve the symptoms.Treatment may consist of:
Physical Therapy and ExercisePhysical therapy and exercise can help prevent the muscles from permanently contracting and stiffening.
BracesIn earlier stages, wearing braces may improve your ability to move around. A back brace may slow curvature of the spine.
MedicationMedicines may include:
- Corticosteroids to relieve muscle weakness in Duchenne muscular dystrophy
- Creatine supplements may reduce fatigue and increase strength
- Drugs for heart problems if muscular dystrophy affects the heart
SurgeryIn severe cases, surgery may be needed to release muscles that are painfully tight. If there are heart problems, a pacemaker may be needed.
PreventionMuscular 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 disease
- May be a carrier of the gene for muscular dystrophy
- Have a partner with a family history of the disease
Muscular Dystrophy Association
Muscular Dystrophy Family Foundation
Canadian Institutes of Health Research
Muscle Dystrophy Canada
Aartsma-Rus A, den Dunnen JT, et al. New insights in gene-derivedtherapy: the example of Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Ann NY Acad Sci. 2010;1214:199-212.
Amato AA, Griggs RC. Overview of the muscular dystrophies. Handb Clin Neurol. 2011;101:1-9.
Congenital muscular dystrophy. Muscular Dystrophy Association website. Available at: http://mda.org/search/site/congenital. Accessed October 7, 2013.
Distal muscular dystrophy. Muscular Dystrophy Association website. Available at: http://mda.org/disease/distal-muscular-dystrophy. Accessed October 7, 2013.
Duchenne muscular dystrophy. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php. Updated March 15, 2013. Accessed July 25, 2013.
Emery-dreifuss muscular dystrophy. Muscular Dystrophy Association website. Available at: http://mda.org/disease/emery-dreifuss-muscular-dystrophy. Accessed October 7, 2013.
Escolar DM, Hache LP, et al. Randomized, blinded trial of weekend vs daily prednisone in Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Neurology. 2011;77(5):444-452.
Facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy. Muscular Dystrophy Association website. Available at: http://mda.org/disease/fsh-muscular-dystrophy. Accessed October 7, 2013.
Limb-girdle muscular dystrophy. Muscular Dystrophy Association website. Available at: http://mda.org/disease/limb-girdle-muscular-dystrophy. Accessed October 7, 2013.
NINDS muscular dystrophy information page. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at: http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/md/md.htm. Updated February 14, 2013. Accessed July 25, 2013.
Oculopharyngeal muscular dystrophy. Muscular Dystrophy Association website. Available at: http://mda.org/disease/oculopharyngeal-muscular-dystrophy/overview. Accessed October 7, 2013.
- Reviewer: John C. Keel, MD
- Review Date: 06/2013
- Update Date: 10/14/2013
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