Muscular DystrophyEn Español (Spanish Version)
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, which is the most common
- Becker, which is a milder form of Duchenne dystrophy
- Myotonic muscular dystrophy, which can begin 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 dystrophy
- Sex: males are at increased risk for Duchenne dystrophy and Becker dystrophy
Symptoms common to most forms of muscular dystrophy may include:
- 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 weaken
- Frequent falling and difficulty getting up
- Severe muscle deterioration, usually leading to use of a wheelchair
- Distortion of the body
- Muscle contraction and stiffening—often severe
- Difficulty breathing
- Reduced intelligence
Severe Muscle Contraction of the Hand
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Symptoms specific to Duchenne and Becker dystrophy include:
- Abnormally curved spine
- Respiratory infections
Symptoms specific to myotonic muscular dystrophy include:
- Difficulty letting go after a handshake
- Muscle weakness
Symptoms usually become worse over time. In many forms, life expectancy is shortened.
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
Your bodily fluids may be tested. This can be done with:
- Blood tests
Your muscles and nerves may be tested. This can be done with:
There is no cure for muscular dystrophy. 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
supplements may reduce fatigue and increase strength
- Drugs for heart problems if muscular dystrophy affects the heart
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 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
Aartsma-Rus A, den Dunnen JT, van Ommen GJ. New insights in gene-derived
therapy: the example of Duchenne muscular dystrophy.
Ann NY Acad Sci.
Amato AA, Griggs RC. Overview of the muscular dystrophies.
Handb Clin Neurol.
Duchenne muscular dystrophy. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:
. Updated March 15, 2013. Accessed July 25, 2013.
Escolar DM, Hache LP, Clemens PR, et al. Randomized, blinded trial of weekend vs daily prednisone in Duchenne muscular dystrophy.
NINDS muscular dystrophy information page.
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at:
Updated February 14, 2013. Accessed July 25, 2013.
Last Reviewed June 2013