What Are 3 Types of Muscular Dystrophy?

Reviewed on 5/27/2022

A child with muscular dystrophy smiling in a wheelchair
The three most common types of muscular dystrophy include Duchenne and Becker muscular dystrophy, myotonic muscular dystrophy, and facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy.

Muscular dystrophy is a group of disorders that cause muscle weakness and that tend to run in families. 

The three most common types of muscular dystrophy include: 

  • Duchenne and Becker muscular dystrophy 
    • Duchenne muscular dystrophy is the most common type of muscular dystrophy diagnosed in childhood
      • Appears in only in boys very early in childhood, and progresses rapidly
    • Becker muscular dystrophy is very similar to Duchenne muscular dystrophy, and also affects boys, but it progresses much more slowly and is less common
  • Myotonic muscular dystrophy
    • The most common form of muscular dystrophy diagnosed in adults
    • Affects men and women equally
  • Facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy
    • Affects the muscles of the face, shoulder blades, and upper arms
    • Usually appears before age 20 but may develop as late as age 40

There are nine major types of muscular dystrophies. In addition to Duchenne and Becker muscular dystrophy, myotonic muscular dystrophy, and facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy, the other types of muscular dystrophy include: 

  • Congenital muscular dystrophy
    • A group of more than 30 types affecting both boys and girls
    • May be present at birth or appear before the age of two
  • Limb-girdle muscular dystrophy
    • More than 20 forms of this type 
    • Affects the muscles of the upper arms, upper legs, shoulders, and hips
    • Can begin in children as young as 2 years and as old as age 40
    • Affects men and women equally
  • Emery-Dreifuss muscular dystrophy
    • A group of disorders that mostly affect adolescent boys and young men, though young women can also be affected
    • Muscle strength in the shoulders, upper arms, and shins may be affected
    • Progresses slowly
  • Distal muscular dystrophy
    • Affects the muscles of the hands, feet, lower arms, and lower legs
    • First appears in men and women between the ages of 40 and 60
    • Progresses more slowly than other forms 
  • Oculopharyngeal muscular dystrophy
    • Affects the muscles of the eyelids, face, and throat, and can weaken vision and swallowing
    • Usually occurs in men and women ages 40 to 50
  • Collagen type VI-related disorders
    • A spectrum of muscle disorders that can be present from infancy to adulthood including Ullrich congenital muscular dystrophy and Bethlem myopathy 
    • Low muscle tone, overly flexible joints, contractures of the arms or legs, and decreased flexibility of the spine

What Are Symptoms of Muscular Dystrophy?

Symptoms of muscular dystrophy usually start in childhood, but some types can begin in adulthood. Some of the first signs of muscular dystrophy may include: 

  • Developmental delays in early milestones such as sitting, walking, and talking
  • Difficulty lifting the head or a weak neck 
  • Child does not walk by 15 months 
  • Muscle pain and stiffness
  • Trouble getting up from sitting or lying down
  • Does not speak as well as other children the same age 
  • Walking on toes and/or waddling
  • Walking with legs apart 
  • Walking with chest pointed out (or has a swayback, saddle back, or arched back)
  • Learning difficulties
  • Frequent falls
  • Problems running, jumping, and climbing stairs
  • Enlarged calf muscles (pseudohypertrophy)

Other signs and symptoms of muscular dystrophy vary depending the type.

Symptoms of Duchenne and Becker muscular dystrophy include: 

  • Weakness that starts in the trunk and spreads to the arms and legs
    • Legs usually weaken first, making it hard to run, jump, or climb stairs
  • Abnormal curves in the spine (scoliosis)
  • Heart and lung problems
  • Mental problems in some children

Symptoms of myotonic dystrophy include:

Symptoms of facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy (FSHD) include:

  • Weakness of face muscles to the point a person is unable to smile, whistle, or shut the eyes tightly
  • Weakness may affect the legs, shoulders, and upper arms
  • Pain
  • Hearing problems
  • Heart problems
  • Mental problems or seizures in some patients

What Is the Treatment for Muscular Dystrophy?

There is no cure for muscular dystrophy. Treatments for muscular dystrophy include: 

  • Medications
    • Anticonvulsants to help manage seizures and muscle spasms
    • Glucocorticoids to reduce inflammation
    • Immunosuppressants may help delay damage to dying muscle cells
    • Antibiotics to treat respiratory infections
    • Eteplirsen (Exondys 51) for Duchenne muscular dystrophy
  • Physical therapy
  • Respiratory therapy
  • Speech therapy
  • Occupational therapy 
  • Assistive devices
    • Braces
    • Wheelchairs
    • Other devices 
  • Corrective surgery
    • To treat conditions that result from muscular dystrophy


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Reviewed on 5/27/2022
Image Source: iStock Images