Muscular dystrophy (MD) refers to a collection of inherited disorders characterized by weakened body muscles.1 These ailments gradually weaken the muscles and also lead to loss of muscle mass. Muscular dystrophy occurs as a result of abnormalities in the gene which is responsible for the production of the protein (dystrophin) which is required for muscle generation and strength. Depending on when the first symptoms of this condition arise, the patients can be diagnosed as early as infancy or as late as adulthood.
What Are The First Signs Of Muscular Dystrophy?
The first signs of muscular dystrophy will occur early in the development and progression of the disorder. They are usually associated with movement problems including clumsy movements, frequent fall, walking on toes, and difficulties climbing stairs or sitting up or standing from a lying position. If your child exhibits any of the aforementioned symptoms, ensure you take them to the doctor for proper prognosis and treatment of the underlying condition. If you are diagnosed with a muscular dystrophy disorder, you will need lifelong assistance to move around as well as treatment to prevent further health complications and even death.
The main traits of a muscular dystrophy disorder are the loss of muscle strength and weakness.2 The symptoms of the various forms of muscular dystrophy are similar; the only difference is how severe they are on the individual. For example; patients with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy have more severe symptoms compared to those with Becker Muscular Dystrophy. Here are the early symptoms of a muscular dystrophy disorder:
- Pain and stiffness in muscles
- Problems with movement such as walking, jumping, and running including walking up stairs
- Stumbling and wadding movements
- Difficulties with standing up or sitting especially from a lying position
- Frequent falls
- Walking on toes without the heels touching the ground
- Difficulties with learning including late speech development
- Difficulties pushing objects around
With time, further complications arise with muscular dystrophy, such as:
- Calf pseudohypertrophy (enlarged calf muscles), which is as a result of fat accumulation in the calf muscles due to damaged muscle tissue
- Immobility whereby one is unable to walk completely
- Shortening of muscles and tendons
- Scoliosis, which is the sideways curvature of the spine, thus the patient appears to bend to one side
- Breathing, swallowing, and heart problems due to weakened heart, throat, and lung muscles
- Vision problems and drooping of facial and neck muscles, especially in cases of myotonic dystrophy
- Foot deformities in extreme cases of muscular dystrophy
Living With Muscular Dystrophy
Living with muscular dystrophy can be challenging considering there are limited or strained movements. Therefore, you would have to rely on someone watching over you to ensure that you are able to handle your day-in-day-out activities. Muscular dystrophy disorders can be managed with specific medications and therapies, which will help slow down the progression of the condition as well as reduce the risks of the symptoms. The right treatment is determined by age, medical history, the form of muscular dystrophy, the severity of the condition, and one’s tolerance to the treatment procedures.
Physical therapy is also crucial for infants and individuals with muscular dystrophy to prevent deformities including scoliosis. In addition to that, braces and other mobility aids will be necessary to enhance movement. Braces also help prevent shortening of muscles and tendons. In cases where the lung and heart muscle weakens, assistance is required to enhance life for the patient. Breathing can be improved by using a ventilator, which will breathe on behalf of the patient. By the age of 12, most children will need mobility aids to help them move around. Heart and lung problems start surfacing in late teenage years or during the early 20s. The outlook of muscular dystrophy will depend on the form and its extremity.
There are different forms of muscular dystrophy and their severity is determined by when they occur. Common forms of muscular dystrophy are; Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, Becker Muscular Dystrophy, Myotonic Muscular Dystrophy, Limb-girdle Muscular Dystrophy, and Congenital Muscular Dystrophy to name a few. Anyone can develop a muscular dystrophy disorder, however, it is common among boys, and there are even particular forms of muscular dystrophy that affect males only. There is no cure for these muscle degenerative disorders; however, they can be managed with medication and therapy.