Hesperian Health Guides

Chapter 10: Muscular Dystrophy: Gradual, Progressive Muscle Loss

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HealthWiki > Disabled Village Children > Chapter 10: Muscular Dystrophy: Gradual, Progressive Muscle Loss

Muscular dystrophy is a condition in which muscles, month by month and year by year, get weaker and weaker. Because the disability gradually gets worse, we say it is ‘progressive’. There are about 30 specific kinds of muscular dystrophy.

How to Recognize If Muscle Weakness Is Caused by Muscular Dystrophy
a child with muscle dystrophy
shoulders and arms are held back awkwardly when walking
weak butt muscles (hip straighteners)
knees may bend back to take weight.
thick lower leg muscles (the ‘muscle’ is mostly fat, and not strong)
tight heel cord (contracture); child may walk on toes
weak muscles in front of leg cause ‘foot drop’ and tiptoe contractures
belly sticks out due to weak belly muscles (child is poor at sit-ups)
thin, weak thighs (especially front part)
poor balance; falls often
awkward, clumsy if walking
  • The most common form (about half of all cases) is Duchenne muscular dystrophy. It mostly affects boys (rarely girls).
  • Often brothers or male relatives have same problem.
  • First signs appear around ages 3 to 5: the child may seem awkward or clumsy, or he begins to walk ‘tiptoe’ because he cannot put his feet flat. Runs strangely. Falls often.
  • Problem gets steadily worse over the next several years.
  • Muscle weakness first affects feet, fronts of thighs, hips, belly, shoulders, and elbows. Later, it affects hands, face, and neck muscles.
  • Most children become unable to walk by age 10.
  • May develop a severe curve of the spine.
  • Heart and breathing muscles also get weak. A child with Duchenne muscular dystrophy usually dies before age 20 from heart failure or pneumonia.

Early common sign of muscular dystrophy

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  • To get up from the ground, the child ‘walks up’ his thighs with his hands.
  • This is mainly because of weak
    thigh muscles.

This page was updated:21 Nov 2019