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Muscular Dystrophy


Muscular dystrophy (MD) is an inherited disease that causes weakness and loss of muscle. There are several types, such as Duchenne and Becker muscular dystrophy, that affect muscles in different parts of your body. Muscle weakness may lead to difficulty walking. In some cases, it can also lead to difficulty eating, drinking, or breathing.


Call 911 for any of the following:

  • You have any of the following signs of a heart attack:

    • Squeezing, pressure, or pain in your chest that lasts longer than 5 minutes or returns

    • Discomfort or pain in your back, neck, jaw, stomach, or arm

    • Trouble breathing

    • Nausea or vomiting

    • Lightheadedness or a sudden cold sweat, especially with chest pain or trouble breathing

Seek care immediately if:

  • You have trouble breathing.

Contact your healthcare provider if:

  • You have a fever.

  • You have difficulty having a bowel movement.

  • You have more weakness than usual.

  • You have trouble swallowing.

  • You are depressed or feel you cannot cope with your MD.

  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.


  • Medicines are given to decrease pain and inflammation, or relax your muscles. Your healthcare provider may also recommend medicine to help other medical conditions that may result from MD.

  • Take your medicine as directed. Call your healthcare provider if you think your medicine is not helping or if you have side effects. Tell him if you are allergic to any medicine. Keep a list of the medicines, vitamins, and herbs you take. Include the amounts, and when and why you take them. Bring the list or the pill bottles to follow-up visits. Carry your medicine list with you in case of an emergency.

Follow up with your healthcare provider as directed:

You may need to return for more tests. Your healthcare provider may need to check you regularly for heart, lung, or spinal problems. You may be referred to a pain specialist. You may also be referred to a genetic counselor to help you learn about more about MD. Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.

Breathing exercises:

These are exercises you can do at home to help you breathe more easily. Breathe out with pursed or puckered lips. Use your diaphragm to breathe. Put one hand on your abdomen and breathe in, causing your hand to move outward or upward. This helps make more room so your lungs can take in more air. Your healthcare provider may teach you or family members how to watch for signs of breathing problems.

Physical and occupational therapy:

Healthcare providers will help you learn how to take care of yourself. A physical therapist will teach you exercises to help improve movement and strength, and to decrease pain. An occupational therapist will teach you skills to help with your daily activities.

Walking and home safety:

Use a 4-pronged cane or walker to help you keep your balance when you walk. Remove loose carpeting from the floor to reduce your risk for a fall. Use chairs with side arms and hard cushions to make it easier to get up or out of a chair. Put grab bars on the walls beside toilets and inside showers and bathtubs. These will help you get up and help prevent falls. You may want to put a shower chair inside the shower.

Ask about vaccines:

The flu vaccine and pneumonia vaccine may help reduce your risk for lung infections. Ask your healthcare provider when to get these shots.

Exercise as directed:

You will need to work with an exercise specialist to prevent injury or muscle damage. Low-impact exercise, such as swimming, can help your heart and muscles work better and reduce tiredness. Your healthcare provider may also recommend strength training, such as weightlifting. Drink liquids before, during, and after exercise to prevent dehydration. Stop exercising if you feel weaker after exercise, your muscles are sore or heavy for up to 48 hours after exercise. Stop if you have shortness of breath.

© 2015 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.