Muscular dystrophy is a medical condition that is hereditary, greatly affecting the muscles of the body and causing progressive weakness. There are less than an average of 200,000 cases in the United States, and as of right now, there is still no cure. Most forms of this serious disease occur in young children, primarily boys, and it usually begins with abnormal genes that lead to the degeneration of the muscles. Many find that they need to use a wheelchair, and the disease typically leads to a shorter life span in the patient. However, there are several warning signs.
1. Muscle Weakness
Most of the symptoms of muscular dystrophy occur in children somewhere between the ages of two and three years old. As this disease attacks the body, the muscles begin to weaken. This may start off as children seeming to have difficulties with putting pressure on their legs, also creating other areas of weakness, especially within the ankles. This weakness may come go. For example, a child may be walking along, when then, often unexpectedly, it seems that one of their legs may just “give out” unexpectedly due to the weakness in the muscles.
2. Falling Frequently
This symptom actually goes hand in hand with the first early warning sign of muscular dystrophy that we listed. As the muscles begin to weaken, children will fall more and more often. This makes perfect sense, as that when the muscles weaken, it becomes more and more difficult to use them in the manner that the sufferer is accustomed. The patient may begin walking differently, sometimes making it much easier to fall when stepping off a curb the wrong way or going up or down steps. This is why young children especially should be monitored at all times when they have muscular dystrophy.
3. Difficulty Sitting or Standing Up
Sitting up and standing from a seated position isn’t always as easy as it looks. When suffering with muscular dystrophy, the weakened muscles may make it difficult to complete normal day-to-day activities. When a person is sitting and begins to stand up, they push up from their feet, with their muscles tightening and flexing until the person is standing upright. It is rather simple to see why this process would be more difficult for a patient suffering from muscular dystrophy. The more and more the muscles begin to deteriorate, the more difficult standing and sitting up can become.
4. Trouble Running or Jumping
Another early warning sign that a patient might be suffering from muscular dystrophy is that they may begin to develop a difficulty with the acts of running and jumping. Again, as the muscles begin to weaken, it can make running and jumping very hard for a patient with muscular problems. This is another one of the symptoms that can come and go, which is why it may be initially ignored. One moment a child may be running through the park, and then they seem to be having difficulties jumping over a log or pushing off the ground with their legs as they swing.
5. Muscle Contractions
Another warning sign of muscular dystrophy is muscle contractions. A muscle contraction or spasm is caused by a muscle that tenses up and cannot find a way to voluntarily relax, thereby releasing the tension that is created. When this tension persists, it can also lead to painful cramping of the muscles. When a patients has muscle contractions, the best way to release them is by straightening the affected area and applying heat to help the muscle to relax. Medications commonly known as muscle relaxers may also be prescribed a physician to help relieve the tension, such as Flexeril or Baclofen.
6. Unusual Walking Patterns
As a patient with muscular dystrophy finds it increasingly more difficult to walk every day, the body has an amazing way of trying to offset this. The sufferer will find that, when one walking pattern doesn’t seem to be working out anymore, they can slightly alter their gait until they can take some of the tension off of the weakened muscles. However, the problem with this is that it can eventually create problems in the back and the neck, as the body continues to realign in ways that do not always come naturally.
7. Walking on the Toes
When children tend to mostly walk on their toes, this means that they are having difficulties with the normal heel-to-toe gait that most people utilize when walking. This can definitely be an early warning sign that the child could possibly have muscular dystrophy. As the disease progresses, the weakening muscles find it extremely hard to assist in the act of walking with normal steps, due to the lack of control in the muscles. Therefore, often placing the most pressure of the body on the toes can create a sense of balance as they attempt to continue walking unimpeded.
8. Large Calf Muscles
This swelling in the muscles can happen when fluid begins to build up in a certain area of the body. It can also occur when the muscles are continuously contracting, which does, in fact, often build up more muscle. This is extremely common in the area of the calf muscles. Painful spasms and contractions also generally occur in this area, as well. This symptom can often be overlooked, but when coupled with a few of the other early warning signs of muscular dystrophy, an appointment should definitely be made with a healthcare professional.
9. Muscle Pain and Stiffness
Muscle pain and stiffness are other symptoms of muscular dystrophy, although they can also be attributed to many other less serious conditions. However, as the muscles begin to weaken, pain will occur, as they are overworked and overused to do simple things that weren’t a problem before. As this occurs, a stiffness can take over the muscles, especially if there are long periods of inactivity. A physician may suggest alternating hot and cold packs to try to alleviate some of the pain and stiffness, and of course, a physician can prescribe medications to provide relief, as well.
10. Learning Disabilities
Children with muscular dystrophy may possess an impairment of the functions of the brain, making it difficult for them to learn in the same ways as children without the disease. Studies have shown that children with this condition often have problems with all forms of learning and general education, development,t social skills and emotional adjustments. This can all lead to a host of other difficulties, including having trouble playing with other children, focusing and understanding what is acceptable in social situations and environments. Counseling and therapy are both available for all of these symptoms, in an attempt to assist with the quality of the child’s life.