Types of Muscular Dystrophy

Man with Duchenne muscular dystrophy controlling a motorized wheelchair with degenerated hands
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For decades, muscular dystrophy has been associated with Jerry's kids. That is, Jerry Lewis surrounded by children during the annual Muscular Dystrophy Association's Labor Day Telethon. From 1966 to 2010, Jerry Lewis hosted this annual telethon to benefit those with muscular dystrophy. Muscular dystrophy (MD) represents a group of nine inherited muscle disorders.

 The telethon went on without Lewis from 2010 to 2014, ultimately ending in 2015. 

Even though the annual telethon is over, muscular dystrophy - all nine forms - still exists. The nine forms are as follows. 

1. Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy

Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) is the most common childhood form of muscular dystrophy, with symptoms typically beginning between 2 to 6 years of age. DMD mostly affects boys. Girls can carry the condition and may be mildly affected. The first signs of DMD may include frequent falling, difficulty getting up from sitting or lying down, and a waddle-like walk. A child with DMD may also appear to have enlarged calf muscles.

The disease progresses slowly, but walking assistance will ultimately become necessary - leading up to a wheelchair. As the body's muscles become progressively weaker, problems with breathing develop. This can lead to respiratory infections like pneumonia, which can be difficult for people with DMD to fight.

Thanks to advances in research and technology, the life expectancy for DMD has increased into the early-30s. 

2. Becker Muscular Dystrophy

Becker muscular dystrophy is very similar to DMD, except that the symptoms of Becker MD can appear later in youth - up until as late as 25. Although similar to DMD, symptoms of Becker MD progress slower than those of DMD.


3. Congenital Muscular Dystrophy

Congenital muscular dystrophy represents a group of muscular dystrophies that are present at birth. This form of MD can affect both boys and girls. Not all congenital forms have been identified. One form, Fukuyama congenital muscular dystrophy, causes severe weakness of the facial muscles and limbs and may include joint contractures, mental and speech problems, as well as seizures.

4. Emery-Dreifuss Muscular Dystrophy

Emery-Dreifuss muscular dystrophy is a less common form of childhood MD that only affects boys. This form progresses slowly. However, unlike DMD, contractures - muscle shortening - may appear earlier in life. Overall muscle weakness is also less severe than that of DMD. Serious heart problems associated with Emery-Dreifuss MD may require a pacemaker.

5. Limb-Girdle Muscular Dystrophy

Limb-girdle muscular dystrophy begins in the teen or early adult years of both genders. The disease causes muscle weakness that starts in the hips, moves to the shoulders, and extends outwards into the arms and legs. The disease progresses slowly but eventually leads to difficulty walking.

6. Facioscapulohumeral Muscular Dystrophy

Facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy (FSH MD) begins in adolescence or early adulthood and affects both genders.

FSH MD primarily affects the muscles of the face ("facio-"), shoulder blades ("scapulo-"), and upper arms ("humeral"). People with FSH MD have shoulders that slope forward, making it difficult to raise their arms over their head. Muscle weakness continues throughout the body as the disease progresses. FSH MD can range from very mild to severe. Despite the progressive muscle weakness, many people with FSH MD are still able to walk.

7. Myotonic Muscular Dystrophy 

Myotonic muscular dystrophy (Steinert's disease) is the most common form of adult muscular dystrophy. This form of muscular dystrophy starts with muscle weakness in the face and then moves on to the feet and hands.

Myotonic MD also causes myotonia –– the prolonged stiffening of muscles (like spasms)--a symptom that only occurs in this form of MD. Myotonic MD affects the central nervous system, heart, digestive tract, eyes, and endocrine glands. It progresses slowly, with the amount of muscle weakness varying from mild to severe. A woman with myotonic MD can give birth to an infant with a congenital form of the disease.

8. Oculopharyngeal Muscular Dystrophy 

Oculopharyngeal muscular dystrophy generally begins in the fourth or fifth decade of life. Drooping eyelids are typically the first sign of this form of dystrophy. The condition then progresses to facial muscle weakness and difficulty swallowing. Surgery can reduce swallowing problems and prevent choking as well as pneumonia.

9. Distal Muscular Dystrophy

Distal muscular dystrophy includes a number of muscle diseases which begin in adulthood and have similar symptoms of weakness of forearms, hands, lower legs, and feet. These diseases - including subforms Welander, Markesbury-Griggs, Nonaka, and Miyoshi - are less severe and involve fewer muscles than other types of muscular dystrophy. Distal form affects both men and women.


Muscular Dystrophy Association USA.

Newsweek. The muscular dystrophy telethon now just a memory (2015).