Muscular dystrophy (MD) is the name given to a group of muscle diseases that weaken the voluntary muscles. MD can cause a lack of coordination and difficulty in walking and even breathing. Some conditions can be fatal. Most types of muscular dystrophy are genetically inherited. In Canada, it is estimated that muscular dystrophy is present in one out of every 3,500 to 5,000 births. Since there is no known cure, it is important to know the warning signs and methods available for managing the condition.
What is Muscular Dystrophy?
There are nine different types of muscular dystrophy recognized by the medical community, but these nine can be the underlying cause of about 150 neuromuscular diseases.
According to studies conducted by French neurologist Guillaume Duchenne and German neurologist, psychiatrist, and geneticist, Peter Emil Becker, the most common types of muscular dystrophy, termed “Duchenne and Becker,”,, almost exclusively appears in males and is passed along in a recessive gene linked to the X chromosome of the individual’s mother. Anyone of any age can begin displaying the symptoms of muscular dystrophy, but symptoms usually begin appearing in children between the ages of two and five. The child may be late in learning to walk. Later, he may suffer frequent falls and have a clumsy, waddling gait.
Warning signs that should be examined when they appear include:
- A family history of muscular dystrophy
- Learning disabilities
- Frequent falls and difficulty running and jumping
- Trouble getting up from a lying or sitting position
- Large calf muscles
There are a variety of unusual symptoms that may appear depending on the type of dystrophy, including walking on tiptoes and a delay in using language.
Facts about Muscular Dystrophy
- Muscular Dystrophy is an Umbrella Term—There are nine different types of MD that can be the underlying cause of about 150 neuromuscular diseases.
- Different Disorders Show Different Signs—Every type of neuromuscular disorder will differ as to the muscles involved, the age the symptoms appear, and the progress of the disease. However, if any of these symptoms appear, the individual should seek a medical diagnosis.
- Diagnosis is Involved—To diagnose muscular dystrophy, physicians will obtain a family history and conduct a physical exam. There also are medical tests that can be used, including a muscle biopsy, a DNA exam, a nerve conduction test with electrodes, or a blood enzyme test.
Muscular Dystrophy Treatment and Management
The progression of muscular dystrophy can be slowed in many individuals through the use of medications and exercises. Often, symptoms can be relieved through the use of physical therapy, medical devices, and surgery.
Since muscular dystrophy is a long-term, progressive disorder that comes in many forms, there are support programs available to help patients and their family members learn about the specific condition and to aid in its management.
- Muscular Dystrophy Canada—As the primary not-for-profit support organization in the country, provides education, conducts research in the search for a cure, helps patients with funding for wheelchairs and other equipment, and is available to provide emotional support for the patient and his family. The organization has offices in each region of the country.
- Canadian Disability Tax Credit—Muscular dystrophy patients may qualify for a disability tax credit, which is intended to help the disabled with extra expenses created by their condition and allow them to lead a more normal, full life.
- Physicians and Surgeons—At times, muscular dystrophy symptoms can be addressed through surgical procedures to relieve muscle shortening. Some conditions will require the insertion of a cardiac pacemaker. Others with curvature of the spine may need a rod inserted.
- Physical Therapists—Many times, muscular dystrophy symptoms, and even the progression of the disease itself, can be relieved through exercise and physical therapy. These can help with pain from awkward positioning of the joints and can delay the onset of curvature of the spine.
Muscular dystrophy can appear at any time of life, but often manifests itself in early childhood. Parents and individuals with a family history should remain vigilant and pay attention to the warning signs. If there is a problem, they should contact one of the organizations available for assistance, and they should check to see if they qualify for a disability tax credit.