Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

A wheelchair may be used for people with muscular dystrophy.

A wheelchair may be used for people with muscular dystrophy.
beginning of content

Muscular dystrophy

Muscular dystrophy is a group of diseases affecting the muscles that control movement. These diseases gradually cause weakness. There is no cure for muscular dystrophy. But medicines and physical therapy can help manage symptoms and slow down disease progression.

What is muscular dystrophy?

Muscular dystrophy is a group of genetic (inherited) diseases affecting muscles that control movement. Sometimes the heart and other muscles may be involved.

If you have muscular dystrophy, your body can’t make the proteins needed to form healthy muscle. This causes a gradual weakness and loss of muscle tissue.

Types of muscular dystrophy

There are many different types of muscular dystrophy. The most common ones are:

  • Duchenne – this is the most common kind. It usually affects boys, but girls can still be carriers of the disease.
  • Becker – while similar to Duchenne, Becker is milder and progresses more slowly. Symptoms usually occur later, during the teen years.
  • Myotonic – this is the most common type in adults, affecting both men and women. The person is unable to relax their muscles after using them.
  • Facioscapulohumeral (FSHD) – symptoms usually begin in the face and shoulders, and affects both females and males. It can start in the teenage years but may begin later.
  • Limb-girdle – the hip and shoulder muscles are usually affected first. It generally first occurs in childhood or the teenage years in both males and females.

Other forms of the disease are Emery–Dreifuss, oculopharyngeal, distal and congenital muscular dystrophy.

Muscular dystrophy diagnosis

Muscular dystrophy is often diagnosed through genetic tests. Doctors may test people with a family history of the disease. A genetic counsellor may help with the testing.

Muscular dystrophy symptoms

In muscular dystrophy, muscles gradually weaken. This can cause:

Muscular dystrophy treatment

Unfortunately, there is no cure for muscular dystrophy. The aim of treatment is to keep the person with the condition feeling as good and as mobile as possible for as long as possible.

Treatment depends on the type of muscular dystrophy. Options include medicines, physical therapy, surgery and other procedures, such as:

  • corticosteroids (steroid medicines)
  • heart medicines or a pacemaker if the heart is affected
  • breathing assistance (ventilator) if breathing muscles are affected
  • walkers and wheelchairs to maintain mobility and independence
  • surgery to correct a curved spine
  • stretching exercises
  • low-impact exercise, such as walking and swimming, can help maintain strength, mobility and general health
  • braces to support weakened muscles and keep tendons stretched and flexible.

Last reviewed: December 2015

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Found 38 results

Brain Foundation | Muscular Dystrophy

Muscular Dystrophy Muscular Dystrophy Read more at Virtual Medical Centre Description Muscular dystrophy refers to a group of genetic (inherited) conditions that cause progressive deterioration of the body's muscles, with increasing weakness and disability

Read more on Brain Foundation website

Muscular Dystrophy | myVMC

The muscular dystrophies are a group of hereditary and genetic muscle diseases mainly characterised by the presence of progressive skeletal muscle weakness

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

Muscular dystrophy -

Muscular dystrophy describes a group of inherited diseases in which the muscles that control movement become progressively weaker and waste away, causing symptoms such as difficulty walking.

Read more on myDr website

Muscular dystrophies of latter onset -

Muscular dystrophies (MD) of latter onset include Limb-girdle MD, congenital MD, ophthalmoplegic MD and distal MD.

Read more on myDr website

Muscular dystrophy treatment information video | myVMC

Muscular dystrophy is a neuromuscular disease. Stem cell therapies are being developed to treat muscular dystrophy and other muscle diseases.

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

Myotonic dystrophy -

Myotonic dystrophy is the most common adult form of muscular dystrophy. Myotonic dystrophy is caused by a defective gene.

Read more on myDr website

Myopathy (including Duchenne's) | myVMC

A myopathy are disorders which affect the muscles of the skeleton causing weakness and wasting. They may be genetic, inflammatory, metabolic or hormonal.

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

Parenting and Child Health - Health Topics - Physical disability

In the early years, children may have some difficulties in learning to move skilfully. This is not unusual. However, for some children, the muscles and nerves that control body movements may not be properly formed or may become damaged causing a physical disability.

Read more on Women's and Children's Health Network website

Amniocentesis Test | myVMC

Amniocentesis is a procedure which involves draining a small amount of amniotic fluid which contains fetal cells. Amniocentesis is used to diagnose chromosomal abnormalities such as Down's Syndrome and hereditary conditions such as muscular dystrophy.

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

Myasthenia gravis -

Myasthenia gravis is a chronic muscle disease that produces weakness and abnormally rapid fatigue of the voluntary muscles.

Read more on myDr website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice and information you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo