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A group of inherited diseases that tend to leave the muscles weak is known as muscular dystrophy. Initially, the attack is on the voluntary muscles, which control our movements, but slowly the effect begins to show on the involuntary muscles of the heart and other organs as well. The weakness that surrounds this genetic ailment is gradual and requires medical attention.
Some particular types of muscular dystrophy affect only males. In some cases, the symptoms of this ailment can be extremely mild and the person can enjoy a normal life without facing much muscle weakness. Medical science has grown to bring in effective treatments for this ailment and hence people are able to survive longer with this disorder than ever before. Read on to know more about muscular dystrophy.
What Is Muscular Dystrophy?
This ailment can affect people of any age groups; infants, middles aged or even the elderly. The severity and kind of muscular dystrophy might be dependent on the age at which it occurs. The cause of muscular dystrophy is a missing genetic information. This results in preventing the body from making proteins that are required to maintain the overall wellness of the muscles.
When a child is diagnosed with this ailment, he or she slowly begins to lose the ability to walk, breathe comfortably or even to move his or her arm's and legs. The weakness increases slowly leading to other health issues.
Types Of Muscular Dystrophy
• Myotonic muscular dystrophy: This is the most common kind. It is also known as the Steinert's disease. It can appear anytime from early childhood to adulthood. It is accompanied by symptoms such as stiffening of muscles and prolonged spasms. The symptoms get worse when it is cold.
• Duchenne muscular dystrophy: This affects only males. It is most likely to appear between the age of 2 and 6. The muscles tend to decrease in size and grow weak with time. The arms, legs and spine get deformed and the patient might be wheelchair-bound by the age of about 12. The later stages of the disease are accompanied by heart problems and breathing difficulties.
• Becker muscular dystrophy: Although similar to Duchenne, the symptoms are milder. The symptoms progress quite slowly. This is also most common during the toddler years; however, it can also appear as late as 25 years old. This ailment affects only males. The severity of the disease varies.
• Facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy: It affects the muscles of the face, upper arm and shoulder blade. It mostly appears during the teen years. It can affect both males and females. This ailment has short periods of muscle deterioration. The problems areas are walking, swallowing, chewing and speaking.
• Congenital muscular dystrophy: This occurs since birth. It affects both males and females and progresses quite slowly. It causes muscle weakness at birth and leads to severe contractures.
• Oculopharyngeal muscular dystrophy: This affects the eye and the throat. This mostly appears in men and women post 40 years of age. It causes weakness in the eye and facial muscles.
What Are The First Signs Of Muscular Dystrophy?
The following are the first signs of muscular dystrophy:
• Difficulty in standing
• Muscle weakness initially near the pelvis, legs and hips
• Walking on the toes (difficulty in raising the front of the foot)
• Trouble while climbing stairs
• Unsteady gait
• Trouble while sitting independently
• Falling often - feeling clumsy
• Behavioural problems
• Trouble while breathing
• Curvature of the spine
How Does Muscular Dystrophy Affect The Body?
Apart from the muscle weakness, this ailment also affects the heart, central nervous system, eyes, hormone-producing glands and gastrointestinal tract. It could be several years after this ailment has set in you might notice its effect on your daily life activities. However, people with myotonic muscular dystrophy might have a decreased life expectancy.
How Do You Test For Muscular Dystrophy?
Once you notice the signs of muscular dystrophy, immediately approaching a doctor is necessary so that treatment can be started to prevent the condition from worsening. Ideally, your doctor would conduct the following tests to reach a diagnosis and preferable treatment approach:
• Enzyme tests - This is because the muscles that are damaged tend to release an enzyme known as creatine kinase. The test is conducted to determine the presence of this enzyme.
• Genetic testing
• Electromyography - The weakened muscle is tested by insertion of an electrode needle.
• Muscle biopsy
• Heart monitoring tests
• Lung monitoring tests
Is Muscular Dystrophy Treatable?
Although there is no cure for any of the forms of muscular dystrophy, medication and therapy can be prescribed by your doctor to slow the progression of the disease. However, research is being conducted to find a cure. Human trials of gene therapy with a gene known as dystrophin are under progress.