Muscular Dystrophy

Muscular dystrophy can occur in infancy, childhood or adulthood. It is a group of more than 30 diseases that cause muscle damage and weakness.

What is muscular dystrophy?

Muscular dystrophy is a group of diseases that damage and weaken muscles in the body. The damage is caused by a lack of dystrophin, a protein that helps with normal muscle function. Lacking this protein causes problems with muscle coordination, such as swallowing and walking.

Muscular dystrophy is caused by a genetic mutation. Sometimes genetic mutations are inherited, and other times they happen in the mother’s egg or developing embryo.

Muscular dystrophy risk factors

Muscular dystrophy can occur in people of all ages and races, in both males and females. The most common type of muscular dystrophy, called Duchenne, is seen more in young boys. People who have a family history of these diseases have a higher risk of developing or passing the disease to their children.

Muscular dystrophy screening

The doctor will begin with a physical exam and an in-depth review of the patient’s medical history. Screenings can include:

  • Muscle biopsy

  • Lung function test

  • Electromyography

  • Heart-monitoring tests

  • Genetic testing

  • Test enzymes

How is muscular dystrophy treated?

There isn’t a cure for muscular dystrophy, but the symptoms can be managed with medicine, therapy, lifestyle changes or surgery. Common treatments include:

  • Corticosteroids and heart medicines.

  • Stretching exercises

  • Low-impact exercises

  • Braces to keep muscles and tendons stretched and flexible

  • Breathing assistance, such as a sleep apnea machine

Muscular dystrophy and wellness

Changes in diet have not been proven to slow the progression of symptoms. But it is important to eat a diet high in fiber and protein, and low in calories. This is because the limited movement and mobility from muscular dystrophy can lead to obesity, constipation and dehydration.

Muscular Dystrophy Clinic at The Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital

The Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital at Maine Medical Center is home to one of two muscular dystrophy clinics in Maine supported by the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

  • The muscular dystrophy clinic helps individuals and families with comprehensive services, including evaluation, follow-up and management of care.

  • Teams of medical experts provide skilled and compassionate care of neuromuscular diseases.

  • Families get help with coordination of services and referrals.

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