Diagnosis

Your doctor is likely to start with a medical history and physical examination.

After that, your doctor may recommend:

  • Enzyme tests. Damaged muscles release enzymes, such as creatine kinase (CK), into your blood. In a person who hasn't had a traumatic injury, high blood levels of CK suggest a muscle disease — such as muscular dystrophy.
  • Electromyography. An electrode needle is inserted into the muscle to be tested. Electrical activity is measured as you relax and as you gently tighten the muscle. Changes in the pattern of electrical activity can confirm a muscle disease.
  • Genetic testing. Blood samples can be examined for mutations in some of the genes that cause different types of muscular dystrophy.
  • Muscle biopsy. A small piece of muscle can be removed through an incision or with a hollow needle. Analysis (biopsy) of the tissue sample can distinguish muscular dystrophies from other muscle diseases.
  • Heart-monitoring tests (electrocardiography and echocardiogram). These tests are used to check heart function, especially in people diagnosed with myotonic muscular dystrophy.
  • Lung-monitoring tests. These tests are used to check lung function.

Treatment

There's no cure for any form of muscular dystrophy. But treatment can help prevent or reduce problems in the joints and spine to allow people with muscular dystrophy to remain mobile as long as possible. Treatment options include medications, physical therapy, and surgical and other procedures.

Medications

Your doctor may recommend:

  • Corticosteroids, such as prednisone, which can help improve muscle strength and delay the progression of certain types of muscular dystrophy. But prolonged use of these types of drugs can cause weight gain and weaken bones, increasing fracture risk.
  • Heart medications, such as angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors or beta blockers, if muscular dystrophy damages the heart.

Therapy

Several types of therapy and assistive devices can improve quality and sometimes length of life in people who have muscular dystrophy. Examples include:

  • Range-of-motion and stretching exercises. Muscular dystrophy can restrict the flexibility and mobility of joints. Limbs often draw inward and become fixed in that position. Range-of-motion exercises can help to keep joints as flexible as possible.
  • Exercise. Low-impact aerobic exercise, such as walking and swimming, can help maintain strength, mobility and general health. Some types of strengthening exercises also might be helpful. But it's important to talk to your doctor first because some types of exercise might be harmful.
  • Braces. Braces can help keep muscles and tendons stretched and flexible, slowing the progression of contractures. Braces can also aid mobility by providing support for weakened muscles.
  • Mobility aids. Canes, walkers and wheelchairs can help maintain mobility and independence.
  • Breathing assistance. As respiratory muscles weaken, a sleep apnea device may help improve oxygen delivery during the night. Some people with severe muscular dystrophy may need to use a machine that forces air in and out of their lungs (ventilator).

Surgery

Surgery may be needed to correct a spinal curvature that could eventually make breathing more difficult.

Clinical trials

Explore Mayo Clinic studies testing new treatments, interventions and tests as a means to prevent, detect, treat or manage this disease.

Lifestyle and home remedies

Respiratory infections may become a problem in later stages of muscular dystrophy. It's important to be vaccinated for pneumonia and to keep up to date with influenza shots.

Dietary changes haven't been shown to slow the progression of muscular dystrophy. But proper nutrition is essential because limited mobility can contribute to obesity, dehydration and constipation. A high-fiber, high-protein, low-calorie diet may help.

Coping and support

A diagnosis of muscular dystrophy can be extremely challenging. To help you cope:

  • Find someone to talk with. You may feel comfortable discussing your feelings with a friend or family member, or you might prefer meeting with a formal support group.
  • Learn to discuss your child's condition. If your child has muscular dystrophy, ask your doctor about the most appropriate ways to discuss this progressive condition with your child.

Preparing for your appointment

You may be referred to a doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of muscular dystrophy.

What you can do

  • Write down the signs and symptoms you or your child has been experiencing, and for how long.
  • Bring photos or video recordings that illustrate your concerns.
  • Write down key medical information, including other conditions.
  • Make a list of all medications, vitamins and supplements taken by you or your child.
  • Note whether anyone in your family has been diagnosed with muscular dystrophy.

Questions to ask your doctor or your child's doctor

  • What's the most likely cause of these signs and symptoms?
  • What tests are needed?
  • What are the possible complications of this condition?
  • What treatments do you recommend?
  • What is the long-term outlook?
  • Do you recommend that our family meet with a genetic counselor?

Don't hesitate to ask other questions during your appointment.

What to expect from your doctor

Your doctor is likely to ask you a number of questions. Being ready to answer them may make time to go over points you want to spend more time on. You may be asked:

  • What symptoms have you noticed?
  • When did they start? Are they getting worse?
  • Has anyone in your immediate family had muscular dystrophy?
  • Do you plan on having more children?
Nov. 27, 2014
References
  1. Darras BT. Clinical features and diagnosis of Duchenne and Beck muscular dystrophy. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Oct. 24, 2014.
  2. NINDS muscular dystrophy information page. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/md/md.htm. Accessed Oct. 23, 2014.
  3. Mercuri E, et al. Muscular dystrophies. The Lancet. 2013;381:845.
  4. Benditt JO, et al. Pulmonary issues in patients with chronic neuromuscular disease. American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine. 2013;187:1046.
  5. Darras BT, et al. Myotonic dystrophy: Etiology, clinical features, and diagnosis. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Oct. 24, 2014.
  6. Darras BT. Treatment of Duchenne and Becker muscular dystrophy. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Oct. 23, 2014.
  7. AskMayoExpert. What physical and occupational therapy interventions are available for muscular dystrophy (MD)? Rochester, Minn.: Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research; 2013.
  8. AskMayoExpert. Can braces or adaptive equipment help with muscular dystrophy? Rochester, Minn.: Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research; 2013.
  9. Darras BT. Patient information: Overview of muscular dystrophies (beyond the basics). http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Oct. 23, 2014.
  10. Selcen D (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Nov. 3, 2014.
  11. Abresch RT, et al. Exercise in neuromuscular diseases. Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation Clinics of North America. 2012;23:653.