Muscular Dystrophy unpacked

When referring to muscular dystrophy (MD), it’s common to think that it’s just one disease. However, MD refers to a group of different diseases that all have the same common baseline: progressive weakness of muscle, and loss of muscle mass.

There is no cure for MD, but understanding the disease is one of the first ways to managing its presence in your life.


What are the different types of muscular dystrophy?

The different types of MD are differentiated by the genes that cause them, which muscles it affects, when the symptoms develop and how quickly the disease progresses.

Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy is the most common type of the disease, and particularly affects boys, though girls may be carriers.

The disease comes from a problem with the gene which makes a protein that help keep muscle shape and strength. Without the protein, muscles break down and become weaker. Symptoms begin showing between the ages of two and six and the disease progresses rapidly, with most children with Duchenne MD needing to use a wheelchair by age 12.

Becker Muscular Dystrophy is very similar to Duchene and also affects boys, though the symptoms may develop later in life.

Other types of MD are defined by which feature of the body they affect. Myotonic MD tends to affect adults and is characterised by the muscles inability to relax after a contraction, and commonly begins in the throat and neck muscles.

Limb-girdle MD begins in the hip and shoulder muscles first, and its onset usually develops in childhood or the teenage years.


What are symptoms of muscular dystrophy?

Because MD usually begins in childhood, symptoms are most commonly found in children or teenagers, and they are the ones to watch.

Symptoms can include:

  • falling down often
  • weak muscles
  • muscle cramps
  • having trouble getting up, climbing stairs, running, or jumping
  • walking on toes or waddling

Because of the weakening of the muscles, there can also be other signs in the body, such as:

  • curved spine (called scoliosis)
  • droopy eyelids
  • heart problems
  • trouble breathing or swallowing
  • vision problems
  • weakness in the muscles of the face


How to treat MD

At the moment, there is no cure for muscular dystrophy, though scientists are working hard to find one.

However, there are things that can be done to make the lives of those who have the disease more comfortable and improve the symptoms.

These treatments include physical and occupational therapy, which not only attempts to strength and boost the muscles, but to also teach the individual to make the most of what their muscles can do.

For those individuals whose MD affects their speech and breathing, there are also therapies to assist with that, including easier ways to talk and breathing techniques.

There are also medicines that can help with some of the effects of MD.

The prognosis of the disease and the quality of life of the individuals depend greatly on the diagnosis, particularly regarding how fast the disease is progressing.

A treatment plan can be developed in conjunction with your doctor.


Links / References:

Mayo Clinic – Muscular dystrophy. (Nov. 27, 2014). Retrieved from

TeensHealth – Muscular Dystrophy. Retrieved from

MedicineNet – Definition of Muscular dystrophy. (5/13/2016). Retrieved from

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke – NINDS Muscular Dystrophy Information Page. (March 4, 2016). Retrieved from

WebMD – Muscular Dystrophy. Retrieved from

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