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Muscular dystrophy refers to a group of diseases

March 31, 2003|by Christine L. Moats

Q: What is muscular dystrophy?

A: According to the Muscular Dystrophy Association, the term muscular dystrophy refers to a group of genetic diseases marked by progressive weakness and degeneration of the skeletal or voluntary muscles which control movement.

The muscles of the heart and some other involuntary muscles are also affected in some forms of muscular dystrophy, and a few forms involve other organs as well. Muscular dystrophy can affect people of all ages. Although some forms first become apparent in infancy or childhood, others may not appear until middle age or later.

Q: How is muscular dystrophy diagnosed?

A: A doctor makes a diagnosis by evaluating the patient's medical history and by performing a thorough physical examination. Essential points in determining the diagnosis should include details about when weakness first appeared, its severity and which muscles are affected. Diagnostic tests may also be used to help the doctor distinguish between different forms of muscular dystrophy, or between muscular dystrophy and other disorders of muscle or nerve.

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Treatment may include physical therapy to prevent contractures (a condition in which shortened muscles around joints cause abnormal and sometimes painful positioning of the joints) and reliance on orthoses (orthopedic appliances used for support). Corrective orthopedic surgery also may be needed to improve the quality of life in some cases. The cardiac problems that occur with Emery-Dreifuss muscular dystrophy and myotonic muscular dystrophy may require a pacemaker. The delayed relaxation of a muscle after a strong contraction, called myotonia, occurring in myotonic muscular dystrophy may be treated with medications such as phenytoin or quinine.

- Sources: www.mdausa.org; www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/musculardystrophy.html




This column does not constitute medical advice. Please consult a health-care provider if you have a medical question. Christine L. Moats is a wellness coordinator at Washington County Hospital.

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