Over Labor Day, just as you were going back to school, you might
have seen the Muscular Dystrophy Association telethon on TV. Every
year on this show, Jerry Lewis and others raise money for research
and treatment of muscular dystrophy (MD). You might wonder
"What's this show about and what
muscular dystrophy?" Or maybe you know someone who has MD.
What Is Muscular Dystrophy?
-troh-fee) is a disease in which the
of the body get weaker and weaker and slowly stop working. Muscles
and membranes need many different kinds of proteins to stay
healthy. When you hear the word "protein" you might think
of food because food, such as meat and peanut butter, contains
protein. But we're talking about another kind of protein - the
kind your body actually creates. Your
tell your body how to make the proteins your muscles need. But in
people with MD, these genes have wrong information or leave out
important information, so the body can't make these proteins
Without these proteins, the muscles break down and weaken over
time. As this happens to muscles, people with MD begin to have
problems with the way their bodies work.
Different Types of MD
There are thirty types of MD. In some types, muscle problems
start when the person is very young. With other types, symptoms of
MD start later, sometimes not until the person is a grown-up. This
article talks about two types: Duchenne and Becker MD. Generally,
only boys get Duchenne MD and Becker MD, but girls are affected by
these types in rare cases and they may get other forms of MD.
Most kids with MD have
) MD. Kids with Duchenne MD look and act just like other kids when
they're babies. But when they're between 2 and 6 years old,
the muscles in their arms, legs, and pelvis (hips) begin to get
weaker. First signs of weakness may be difficulty running, getting
up stairs, or up off of the floor. A boy with Duchenne MD will have
trouble walking and eventually will stop walking. The boy may have
also trouble feeding himself, difficulty breathing, and trouble
with his heart, which is a muscle.
MD is very similar to Duchenne, except kids with Becker MD may not
have problems until much later, when they're teenagers or
adults. It takes a long time for their muscles to become weak.
How Does a Kid Get Muscular Dystrophy?
MD is not
-juss), which means you can't catch it from another person. MD
happens because of a problem with a person's
. Your genes are passed down to you from parents and they contain
information about all kinds of stuff. They determine your eye
color, hair color, height, and also whether you will have certain
What Does MD Feel Like?
When they're young, kids with MD don't look any
different from other kids. Later on, they may need wheelchairs or
leg braces to get around. It's hard to imagine what it might
feel like if you had trouble getting up from a chair, playing
sports, or even walking. The weakness that kids with MD feel in
their muscles isn't the same kind of weakness you feel after
you run really far and feel like you can't go another step. If
you don't have MD, your muscle weakness from exercise will go
away after a short time. But for kids with MD, muscle weakness is
always there - when they wake up and when they go to sleep. MD can
also affect a person's brain, which can cause learning
problems, but most kids with MD can go to school in a regular
classroom with other kids.
What Does the Doctor Do?
When kids begin to have muscle problems and weakness, they go to
. The doctor can do tests to see if a kid has MD. The doctor will
examine the weak muscles and test the kid's blood. The doctor
can sometimes tell just by a blood test if a kid has Becker or
Duchenne MD. Or the doctor might take a small piece of the muscle
and look at it under a microscope to help tell whether a kid has
MD. Other tests measure the work that nerves are doing in the
muscles and can help doctors figure out if something else is
causing the muscle weakness.
Helping Kids With MD
There are things kids with MD do to help their muscles. Certain
exercises help keep their muscles as strong as possible. Also,
special braces help keep the
flexible. Tendons are like very strong rubber bands that keep your
muscles attached to your
. If the tendons get tight, your muscles can't work as well, so
the braces keep the tendons from tightening up too much.
Kids with MD also do breathing exercises, such as blowing into a
tube to make a ball go up. This helps fill their lungs with air and
helps prevent them from getting
Some kids with MD take medications to keep their muscles
stronger. For some kids, medications called
-oyds) may slow down the weakening of the muscles. A side effect of
steroids is that they can cause a kid to gain weight.
Many scientists are working on ways to help people with MD. In
fact, that Labor Day telethon raises money for research. Some
scientists are trying to fix the genes so they will make the right
proteins. Other scientists are trying to make chemicals that will
act like these proteins. They hope that this will help the muscles
work better in people with MD.
Living With MD
Kids with MD may use crutches, walkers, and leg braces to
help them walk. They may even use wheelchairs when their muscles
get weaker. Some kids have specially trained dogs to open doors for
them and carry stuff, like books or toys. But kids with MD like to
do the same things as other kids. They like to be outside, play
games, and watch TV. Kids who have MD can even go to special summer
Although they need some special attention, kids who have MD want
to be treated just like other kids. If you know someone with MD,
offer help when the person needs it, but don't make a big deal
about the MD. Be a friend and make the most of all the activities
you can enjoy together.
Updated and reviewed by:
Alisa Clark, MSN, RN
Date reviewed: January 2007
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice,
diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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