At the present time there is no cure for muscular dystrophy (MD). It is a progressive disability and depending upon the type of MD, may shorten life expectancy.
There are ways in which the condition can be managed to minimize its affect on the sufferer. Examples of treatments are:
A physical therapist can help with a program of exercises to keep the muscles in good condition. Immobility can make MD progress faster because muscles that aren’t being used waste quicker. It can also prevent stiff joints and the pain associated with them. It is important to be active and to walk and/or swim while the ability is still there.
As the disability progresses, it can help the person’s outlook if they can maintain as much independence as possible. Crutches or a wheelchair can help them stay mobile. These can be provided by a health care professional.
Some people with a fatal prognosis, such as Duchenne muscular dystrophy, can be given steroid medication called glucocorticoid corticosteroids. These can temporarily slow the progression of the disability for up to two years and improve the condition and strength of the muscles. Some patients find doing things like climbing stairs easier while taking the medication.
Structural problems often occur in people with MD because the muscles hold the bones in place and if there isn’t enough muscle, bones can move and cause conditions like a curved spine. If this happens, corrective surgery is an option to help the patient keep his mobility and reduce associated pain. Depending on the type of MD the patient has, he or she may also have heart problems since the heart is a muscle too. Cardiac surgery can be done to address this issue.
Other common sense measures like eating a healthy diet and getting enough sleep don’t affect MD directly, but a well-nourished, well-rested person has a stronger body more able to cope with the effects of the disability.
Even if muscular dystrophy runs in the family and isn’t entirely a surprise, hearing the diagnosis can be devastating to both the patient and the people in the family. They may have to come to terms with the shortened life span of a loved one or get used to the idea that he or she will be disabled. Getting support for their emotional needs is as important as the physical ones. A trained counselor can be there to listen in an objective and unbiased environment. There are charities and support groups that specifically deal with MD, so the sufferer or his or her family could meet up with other families affected by the condition. With Duchenne muscular dystrophy affecting one in every 3,500 boys, they certainly aren’t alone.
Joanna is a freelance health writer for The Mother magazine and Suite 101 with a column on infertility, http://infertility.suite101.com/. She is author of the book, 'Breast Milk: A Natural Immunisation,' and co-author of an educational resource on disabled parenting, in addition to running a charity for people damaged by vaccines or medical mistakes.