Muscular dystrophy is a group of disorders that affect the muscles. There are more than thirty types of muscular dystrophies. The disorder is characterized by muscle wasting and weakening.
Muscular dystrophy is a genetic disorder. This means that one of the genes that ensures the proper functioning of certain muscles is defective. Oftentimes, the gene responsible is recessive, which means that both parents must carry the faulty gene for the child to inherit the disease. When it comes to passing the condition on to a child, the faulty gene is inherited from each parent who are themselves carriers but do not necessarily have the disease.
Types of muscular dystrophies
Muscular dystrophy may appear as early as 6 months of age, can develop later during infancy or in early adulthood. The most well known form of muscular dystrophy is Duchenne's, which is in the second category. Certain factors help differentiate the types of muscular dystrophy including:
- the muscles involved
- the rate of symptom progression
- the genes involved
- the severity of symptoms
Some of the most common symptoms associated with muscular dystrophy are muscle pain and cramping due to the weakening of the muscles. As the disease progresses, joints become stiff, muscles lose their flexibility and contract involuntarily. Then, patients gradually lose their ability to walk and coordinate movement.
In addition to symptoms that affect the limbs, some types of muscular dystrophy can also affect the heart, gastrointestinal tract, eyes and lungs (difficulty breathing and speaking). Because of the heart and lung problems, the life expectancy in these individuals is greatly shortened.
The key risk factor is family history. There is a higher risk of having a child with muscular dystrophy if another child in the family already has the disorder.
If there is a known family history of muscular dystrophy, the parents can be tested to see if they are carriers of the defective gene. Prenatal screening can also be performed to find out whether the unborn child has inherited the condition. If necessary, it is also possible to implant an embryo that is free of the defective gene.
There is no specific treatment. However, to limit deformities that affect the joints and to enhance patient comfort, physical therapy and orthopaedics are strongly recommended. Physical exercise also helps maintain some muscle strength. In some cases, medication may help alleviate pain and cramping.
If you have any questions, don't hesitate to speak to your pharmacist. For more information or for support:
Muscular Dystrophy Canada