Duchenne muscular dystrophy is a type of muscular dystrophy that features a rapid progression of the disease.
Muscles weaken and then waste, which leads to loss of mobility, paralysis and death.
It is found predominantly in males at a rate of 1:3500, which makes it the most common form of muscular dystrophy. Females may be carriers of the disease and infrequently have a milder version.
The disease is often detected in babies, but the symptoms typically appear in boys before the age of six. The early signs are weakness in the legs and hips, often with a visible loss of muscle. This weakness will spread to the arms, the neck and then to other areas of the body.
Walking unaided and climbing hills and stairs becomes difficult. Leg braces are often fitted to a boy up to the age of ten, but most patients are confined to a wheelchair by the age of twelve.
The early signs that a child may have Duchenne muscular dystrophy include an awkward style of walking and running, enlarged calf muscles, frequent tripping and falling, general fatigue and difficulty with mastering motor skills. Boys with the disease also have a higher risk of having learning difficulties and behavioral problems.
At the present time there is no cure for Duchenne’s although research is continuing and promising results are being seen with stem-cell research.
The current treatment focuses on controlling the symptoms of the disease so that the child can enjoy the best quality of life that is possible for him.
Corticosteroids are used to improve strength, increase energy levels and delay the effect of some of the symptoms.
Because complete lack of movement can actually make the disease worse, non weight bearing exercise like swimming is encouraged. Swimming exercise also gives the child a sense of freedom of movement that he can’t enjoy on land, and this improves both his mood and energy levels.
Physical therapy can help to maintain and improve muscle strength, function and flexibility. Trained therapists can often teach the parents how to do these exercises at home, so the child has as much assistance as possible.
As the disease progresses, orthopedic aids like braces and wheelchairs help to increase the boy’s mobility and self-reliance, as well as improving his quality of life. Respiratory assistance may be required as the disease starts to affect the chest and breathing.
Stem-cell research seems to be the best hope for sufferers of Duchenne muscular dystrophy. There are numerous groups and organizations that offer much needed education, support, advice and assistance to the child, his parents and the families of the patient.