Some types of muscular dystrophy shorten the person's lifespan, often by affecting the muscles associated with breathing. Even with improved mechanical breathing assistance, people who have Duchenne muscular dystrophy — the most common type of muscular dystrophy — usually die of respiratory failure before they reach age 40.

Many types of muscular dystrophy can also reduce the efficiency of the heart muscle. If the muscles involved with swallowing are affected, nutritional problems may develop.

As muscle weakness progresses, mobility becomes a problem. Many people who have muscular dystrophy will eventually need to use a wheelchair. However, the prolonged immobility of joints associated with wheelchair use can worsen contractures, in which the limbs draw inward and become fixed in that position.

Contractures may also play a part in the development of scoliosis, a sideways curvature of the spine that further reduces lung efficiency in people who have muscular dystrophy.

Jan. 18, 2012

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