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Muscular Dystrophy

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Oct 30, 2023.

What is Muscular Dystrophy?

Harvard Health Publishing

Muscular dystrophy (MD) is a group of disorders that cause the body's muscles to become increasingly weak. Muscular dystrophy is an inherited condition.  

Types of muscular dystrophy include:  

There are at least two other forms of the illness. These are congenital muscular dystrophy and Emery-Dreifuss dystrophy. Emery-Dreifuss MD causes upper arm and lower leg weakness, and poor heart function. Some forms of congenital muscular dystrophy are associated with decreased mental function. 


Symptoms of MD vary according to the specific form of illness. The age of onset varies as well. 


Your doctor will review your (or your child's) medical history and symptoms. The doctor will ask about the developmental history. This includes age of first sitting, standing, and walking. You will also be asked about history of infections and any significant injuries. 

Your doctor will examine you or your child. He or she will look for muscle weakness, wasting and myotonia.  

The doctor will do a neurological examination to look for nerve problems.  

To confirm the diagnosis of muscular dystrophy, your doctor may order:  

Expected Duration

All forms of muscular dystrophy worsen over time. They persist throughout life.


There is no way to prevent muscular dystrophy.

Genetic testing can help determine the chances of having a child with MD. This usually consists of a simple blood test.


There is no cure for muscular dystrophy and no way to stop it from getting worse. Patients are given supportive care, leg braces and physiotherapy to help them function in daily life.  

It's particularly important that limbs be stretched. This helps prevent tightened tendons and muscles. When tightness of tendons (contractures) develops, surgery can be done.  

When chest muscles are involved in MD, respiratory therapy may be used to delay breathing problems.  

People with MD are also given age-appropriate dietary therapy. This helps prevent obesity. Obesity is especially harmful to patients with muscular dystrophy. It places additional strain on their weak muscles. Unfortunately, MD increases obesity risk because physical limitations prevent people with MD from exercising.  

Some forms of MD involve the heart. Patients with these forms should have their heart function and rhythm evaluated. Medications to improve heart function and rhythm may be helpful. A pacemaker can help to maintain a normal heart rate. 

In boys with Duchenne dystrophy, corticosteroids may temporarily keep the illness from getting worse. However, some people cannot tolerate this medication.  

Powerful medications that suppress the immune system may help some patients. But their use is controversial and somewhat risky.  

In patients with myotonic dystrophy, muscle contractions can be treated with medications.  

When To Call A Professional

Call your doctor if you notice muscle weakness anywhere in your body. Also call if you have trouble speaking clearly or swallowing normally.  

If you are a parent, call your child's physician if your child has: 


The outlook varies according to: 

Some patients have only mild symptoms with a normal lifespan. Others have severe symptoms and die at a young age. 

Additional Info

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

Muscular Dystrophy Association

Parent Project for Muscular Dystrophy Research

Learn more about Muscular Dystrophy

Treatment options

Care guides guides (external)

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.