Muscular dystrophy (MD) is a group of genetic diseases involving progressive
weakness and degeneration of the muscles that control movement. In some forms of
MD, the heart muscles and other involuntary muscles, as well as other organs,
are also affected. There are nine distinct types of MD, with myotonic the most
common form among adults and Duchenne the most common form among children (it
affects only boys). MD is an incurable, often fatal disease.
Signs and Symptoms
Myotonic muscular dystrophy (which affects adults) is accompanied by the
following signs and symptoms.
Delayed muscle relaxation after contraction
Impaired nourishment of non-muscular tissue
Weaknesses in the facial muscles, arms and legs, and muscles affecting
speech and swallowing
Baldness in men and women
Heart abnormalities in early adulthood
Although Duchenne MD is present at birth, signs and symptoms do not usually
appear until the child is 3 to 5 years of age. They include the
Difficulty running, jumping, and getting up from a sitting or
Large calf muscles
Weakness in the lower extremities
Mild mental retardation
Breathing difficulties and a chronic disorder of heart muscles develop during
adolescence, usually after the individual becomes
What Causes It?
MD is caused by gene mutations that are particular to each form of the
Who's Most At Risk?
In two-thirds of cases of MD, the person has a family history. In one-third
of cases, there is no family history.
What to Expect at Your Provider's Office
If you or someone you take care of is experiencing symptoms associated with
MD, you should see your health care provider. Diagnosis depends on sophisticated
testing, such as lab tests, imaging, and other procedures.
The goal of a treatment plan is to maintain the person's optimal physical and
emotional health by preventing joint and spinal deformities, which prolongs the
ability to walk for as long as possible. Assisted breathing is introduced as
needed, and lifelong physiotherapy is necessary. Orthopedic devices may be
needed for support. Hydrotherapy, such as continuous tub baths, may help
maintain a full range of joint motion.
Your provider may prescribe the following medications.
Phenytoin, quinine, and procainamide, for delayed muscle relaxation in
Prednisone, to improve muscle strength in Duchenne
Surgical and Other Procedures
Surgery sometimes can help people who have MD.
Spinal surgery to correct scoliosis (curvature of the
Tenotomy to release contractures (painful positioning of the joints)
of the hips, knees, and Achilles tendon, which is near the back of the
Complementary and Alternative Therapies
A comprehensive treatment plan for MD may include a range of complementary
and alternative therapies.
Follow an anti-inflammatory diet, including organic whole foods such as whole
grains, vegetables, fruit, legumes, sea vegetables, and essential fatty acids
(nuts, seeds, and cold-water fish). Avoid refined foods, saturated fats (dairy
and other animal products), and all known food allergens.
Potentially beneficial nutrient supplements include the
Essential fatty acids (for example, flax, borage, evening primrose,
cod liver) 1,000 to 1,500 mg two to three times per day
Vitamin E (400 to 800 IU per day), selenium (100 to 200 mcg per day),
coenzyme Q10 (100 mg one to three times per day)
L-carnitine (320 mg one to two times per day)
B-complex vitamins, especially B12 (1,000 mcg per day) and B6 (100 mg
per day), and minerals, such as calcium (1,000 mg per day), magnesium (500 mg
per day), and potassium (100 mg per day)
N-acetyl cysteine (500 mg twice a day)
Creatine (5 to 7 g per day)
Herbal remedies may offer relief from symptoms. Herbs are generally available
as dried extracts (pills, capsules, or tablets), teas, or tinctures (alcohol
extraction, unless otherwise noted). Dose for teas is 1 heaping tsp. per cup of
water steeped for 10 minutes (roots need 20 minutes).
Combine three of the following herbs in equal parts and add two to three
others as needed:
If the heart is affected, add hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna),
There have been few studies examining the effectiveness of specific
homeopathic remedies. A professional homeopath, however, may recommend one or
more of the following treatments for muscular dystrophy based on his or her
knowledge and clinical experience. Before prescribing a remedy, homeopaths take
into account a person's constitutional type. In homeopathic terms, a person's
constitution is his or her physical, emotional, and intellectual makeup. An
experienced homeopath assesses all of these factors when determining the most
appropriate remedy for a particular individual.
Arnica — for relief from muscle pain
Calcarea carbonica — for cramps of the
lower extremities, particularly in those who are overweight and easily chilled
Magnesia phos — for muscle pain and
spasm with cramps and severe, shooting pain
Regular massage is important for reducing spasm and muscle
The outlook for people with MD varies, depending on the type and severity of
the disease. In mild cases, the disease may progress slowly and the person may
have a normal lifespan, while in more severe cases, there is a more marked
progression of muscle weakness, functional disability, and loss of ability to
get around. Duchenne MD patients usually live into their twenties, and myotonic
MD patients usually live into their forties or fifties. In most cases,
individuals with MD die of infections, respiratory problems, or cardiac
MD patients annually undergo electrocardiography, pulmonary function studies,
and chest radiographs, along with tests to monitor their swallowing
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Review Date: March 2000
Reviewed By: Participants in the review process include: Gary Guebert, DC, DACBR, Login
Chiropractic College, Maryland Heights, MO; Peter Hinderberger, MD, PhD,
Ruscombe Mansion Community Health Center, Baltimore, MD; David Perlmutter, MD,
Perlmutter Health Center, Commons Medical and Surgical Centre, Naples, FL; Terry
Yochum, DC, Rocky Mountain Chiropractic Center, Arvada,
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