Muscular dystrophy refers to a group of more than 30 genetic conditions that cause muscle weakness and other muscle-related symptoms. The symptoms of muscular dystrophy get worse over time. It can be present at birth, develop in childhood or develop in adulthood depending on the type.
Muscular dystrophy refers to a group of more than 30 genetic (inherited) conditions that affect the functioning of your muscles. In general, the symptoms of muscular dystrophy worsen over time. These conditions are a type of myopathy, a disorder of your skeletal muscles.
Some forms of muscular dystrophy are present at birth or develop during childhood. Other forms develop during adulthood.
There are more than 30 types of muscular dystrophy. Some of the more common forms include:
Muscular dystrophy is relatively rare. All of the different types combined affect about 16 to 25 per 100,000 people in the U.S.
The most common childhood form is Duchenne muscular dystrophy. The most common adulthood form is myotonic dystrophy.
The symptoms of muscular dystrophy can vary significantly depending on the type. But the main symptom is muscle weakness and other muscle-related issues. Each type can affect different muscles and parts of your body. Symptoms of muscular dystrophy generally get worse over time.
Muscle- and movement-related symptoms can include:
Other symptoms can include:
The symptoms of some types of muscular dystrophy are mild and progress slowly over time as you age. Other types cause more rapid muscle weakness and physical disability.
Mutations (changes) in the genes that are responsible for healthy muscle structure and function cause muscular dystrophy. The mutations mean that the cells that would normally maintain your muscles can no longer fulfill this role, leading to progressive muscle weakness over time.
There are several genes — and possible genetic mutations — that play a role in muscle function. This is why there are so many different forms of muscular dystrophy.
In the majority of muscular dystrophy cases, the person inherits the genetic mutation from one or both of their biological parents.
There are three ways you can inherit muscular dystrophy, depending on the specific type:
In rare cases, a person may develop muscular dystrophy spontaneously, meaning the mutation happened randomly and wasn’t inherited. This is called a de novo mutation.
If you or your child have symptoms of muscular dystrophy, your healthcare provider will likely perform a physical exam, neurological exam and muscle exam. They’ll ask detailed questions about your symptoms and medical history.
If they suspect you or your child have muscular dystrophy, they may recommend any of the following diagnostic tests:
There currently isn’t a cure for muscular dystrophy, though researchers are actively looking for one.
The main goal of treatment is to manage symptoms and improve your quality of life. Treatments can vary depending on the type of muscular dystrophy and may include:
As muscular dystrophy is a genetic condition, there’s nothing you can do at this time to prevent it.
If you’re concerned about the risk of passing on muscular dystrophy or other genetic conditions before trying to have a biological child, talk to your healthcare provider about genetic counseling. In some situations, prenatal testing may be able to diagnose the condition in early pregnancy.
If you have muscular dystrophy, there are steps you can take to try to prevent or delay complications and improve your quality of life, including:
The prognosis (outlook) for muscular dystrophy varies depending on the type. Your healthcare provider will be able to give you a better idea of what to expect based on the type of muscular dystrophy you have and your unique situation.
The life expectancy for muscular dystrophy varies significantly depending on the type.
For example, people with Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) often die from the condition by the age of 25. But other forms of muscular dystrophy, such as oculopharyngeal muscular dystrophy, don’t typically affect life expectancy.
If you have muscular dystrophy or you’re taking care of someone with it, it’s important to advocate for yourself/them to ensure you/they get the best medical care and as much access to therapy as possible. Advocating for care can help you/them have the best possible quality of life.
You and your family may also want to consider joining a support group to meet others who can relate to your experiences.
If you have muscular dystrophy, you’ll need to see your team of healthcare providers regularly to receive treatment and monitor your symptoms.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
“Muscular dystrophy” is a term for a group of more than 30 genetic conditions that cause muscle weakness and other muscle-related symptoms. Understanding your muscular dystrophy diagnosis can be overwhelming. Your healthcare team will offer a robust management plan that’s unique to your symptoms. It’s important to make sure you’re getting the support you need and to stay attentive to your health. Know that your healthcare team will be there to support you and your family.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 04/16/2023.
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