Facebook Pixel

Muscular Dystrophy Symptoms & Diagnosis


Symptoms common to most forms of muscular dystrophy may include:

Initial symptoms:

  • Progressive weakening of muscles—Usually, those muscles closest to the trunk become weak first. Then, muscles further away weaken as the disease advances.
  • Enlargement of muscles as they weaken
  • Clumsiness
  • Frequent falling and difficulty getting up

Later symptoms:

  • Severe muscle deterioration, usually leading to use of a wheelchair
  • Distortion of the body
  • Muscle contraction and stiffening (often severe)
  • Difficulty breathing

Severe Muscle Contraction of the Hand

Nucleus factsheet image
© 2009 Nucleus Medical Art, Inc.

Symptoms specific to Duchenne and Becker dystrophy include:

  • Abnormally curved spine
  • Enlargement and weakening of the heart muscle
  • Pneumonia and other respiratory infections

Symptoms specific to myotonic muscular dystrophy include:

  • Difficulty in letting go after a handshake
  • Muscle weakness that affects the central nervous system, heart, digestive tract, glands, or eyes

Symptoms usually become progressively worse. In many forms, life expectancy is shortened.


The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. She will also do a physical exam.

Tests may include:

  • Muscle tissue biopsy —removal of a sample of muscle tissue for testing
  • Blood enzyme tests—testing a blood sample to look for elevated enzyme levels
  • Genetic testing-using blood samples
  • Electromyogram (EMG) —measures electrical impulses coming from muscles
  • Nerve conduction study (NCS) —measures electrical impulses in the nerves

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Copyright © 2022 EBSCO Publishing All rights reserved.

The Latest in Muscular Dystrophy Symptoms & Diagnosis

ASK Your Health Question

It's FREE and you'll get a response within 24 hours


POST Info, Tips & Stories

Inspire others to learn from your experiences. Tell your story!

Get Email Updates

Muscular Dystrophy Guide

HERWriter Guide

Have a question? We're here to help. Ask the Community.


Health Newsletter

Receive the latest and greatest in women's health and wellness from EmpowHER - for free!