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What Is Muscular Dystrophy?
Muscular dystrophy is a disease that weakens muscles over time. There are different types of muscular dystrophies. Each type begins at a different age and may cause mild or severe muscle weakness.
The two most common types of muscular dystrophy (DISS-truh-fee) are Duchenne muscular dystrophy and Becker muscular dystrophy.
What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Muscular Dystrophy?
Kids with Duchenne or Becker muscular dystrophy might:
- have trouble climbing stairs
- be clumsy
- trip and fall a lot
- toe walk
- have leg pain
- have weak arm, leg, or face muscles
- have large calves
Symptoms of Duchenne (dew-SHEN) and Becker muscular dystrophy are progressive. This means that they get worse over time. Kids with muscular dystrophy may also develop scoliosis (curved spine), heart problems, breathing problems, and trouble walking.
What Causes Muscular Dystrophy?
Muscular dystrophy is a genetic condition. Genetic conditions are passed from a parent (or parents) to their child. In muscular dystrophy, a gene change prevents the body from making the proteins needed to build and maintain healthy muscles.
A genetic counselor can help parents understand how muscular dystrophy can run in families.
How Is Muscular Dystrophy Diagnosed?
Doctors diagnose muscular dystrophy by:
- asking questions about symptoms
- doing an exam
- asking if others in the family have muscular dystrophy
- doing blood tests, including genetic testing
- taking a muscle biopsy (looking at a small piece of muscle under a microscope)
- doing an EMG (a test that checks how the nerves and muscles are working together)
- doing an EKG or echocardiogram to check the heart
How Is Muscular Dystrophy Treated?
There’s no cure for muscular dystrophy. But treatments can help people stay as active and independent as possible. Clinical trials are ongoing and new medicines are being developed to treat and possibly cure muscular dystrophy.
Treatment for muscular dystrophy depends on how old the child is, what kind of muscular dystrophy they have, and how severe it is. Treatment may include:
- physical therapy
- a walker, wheelchair, or crutches
- braces and splints
- breathing support
- nutritional counseling
- surgery for scoliosis
How Can Parents Help?
If your child has muscular dystrophy, a care team of medical specialists will work with you and your family to help your child get the best care. The care team may include: a neurologist, orthopedist, pulmonologist, physical therapist, occupational therapist, nurse practitioner, cardiologist, registered dietician, and a social worker.
To help your child:
- Go to all medical visits.
- Make sure your child takes any medicines and follows any instructions given by the care team.
You can learn more about muscular dystrophy through your care team and online at:
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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