Muscular dystrophy (MD) is a group of inherited diseases that cause muscle weakening and a loss of muscle tissue. The body replaces the lost muscle tissue with fat and connective tissue. The muscle weakness makes it hard or even impossible for your child to walk. Currently, there is no cure for the disease.
There are many forms of muscular dystrophy. Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) is the most common type. It is also the most severe childhood form of the disease. It usually starts before the age of 5 and affects mostly boys.
MD can affect the heart. Also, as the breathing muscles weaken, a child may start having lung problems, including pneumonia. The life span for people with MD is usually shorter than normal.
MD is a genetic disorder. This means that a child with MD has one or more defective genes. Genes contain the information used by the body’s cells to make proteins, the body's building blocks. Each protein does a specific job. Children who have MD have a problem with a gene that makes a protein needed by their muscles. Without this protein, or the right form of the protein, their muscles don’t work right.
One or both parents may be a carrier of the defective gene and pass it on to their child. A carrier is a person who has the faulty gene that causes MD but usually shows no symptoms of MD.
Because of the way DMD is inherited, it’s much more common in boys than girls. However, girls can be carriers.
Signs of muscular dystrophy are often noticed when a child is very young. Symptoms may include:
Usually children with DMD start having trouble with climbing stairs and getting off the ground between the ages of 3 and 5 years.
Your child’s healthcare provider will ask about your child’s symptoms and medical history and examine your child. Tests may include:
Although there is no cure, symptoms of muscular dystrophy can be helped with:
Medicine may include:
If it gets hard for your child to breathe, your child may use a machine that helps breathing, especially at night.
Your child may have a walker or wheelchair to help your child get around.
Many experimental therapies have not yet shown proven benefits. However, there is a great deal of medical research going on to find better treatments and a cure for this disease.
A diet similar to that for any growing child is recommended, with some changes. Your child’s diet should be high in fluid and fiber, with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables to prevent severe constipation. If your child is taking a steroid or has heart problems, he may need to cut back on sodium (salt) in the diet. Children who use power wheelchairs, take a steroid, or are not very active should have a low-calorie diet to keep their weight down. Being overweight can stress weakened muscles and the heart. A low-calorie diet does not hurt the muscles.
Follow your child’s healthcare provider's instructions. Ask your provider:
Make sure you know when your child should come back for a checkup.
You can get more information about MD from: