It’s important to recognise the early signs of muscular dystrophy as soon as possible, so that you and your medical team can design the best care plan for your child.
Many children with muscular dystrophy (MD) may initially follow a normal course of development, but in time symptoms will start to appear.
If you notice any of the following signs in your child, they warrant a medical check-up – especially if you know that someone in your family has or had muscular dystrophy, or is a carrier (note, however, that although these features are typically seen in MD, they could potentially have several other causes as well):
• Muscle weakness that worsens over time. This is a common defining symptom of all forms of muscular dystrophy. However, each form of MD differs as regards the order in which symptoms occur and which parts of the body are affected.
• A child that is at least 18 months old but still has not begun to walk: about half of boys with Duchenne MD are not walking at 18 months. Some children with MD may also have trouble learning to sit up independently.
• A child with MD may start to stumble, waddle when they walk or walk unsteadily, struggle to go up stairs, or toe-walk (walk on the toes or balls of the feet without the heels touching the ground).
• Clumsiness and frequent falls for no apparent reason.
• Difficulty getting up from a lying or sitting position on the floor. Children with MD often have a characteristic way of rising. To stand, the child places his feet apart, raises his bottom, and pushes up off the floor. He then “walks” his hands up his knees and thighs to stand upright.
• Difficulty pushing objects such as a tricycle or a wagon.
• Development of enlarged calves (technically called “calf pseudohypertrophy”), which may occur in MD as the muscle is destroyed and replaced by fat and scar tissue.
• Trouble running and jumping: Children with MD usually can’t run well or jump with both feet together.
• Walking with stomach forward and shoulders back, causing a sway back.
• Difficulty moving the neck.
• Some children with MD have speech or language delays, or behaviour problems.
• Muscle cramps.
• Problems with swallowing or breathing.
If your child displays any of these signs, especially if there’s a family history of MD, ask your doctor about referral to a specialist experienced in neuromuscular disorders.
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). (2011). Muscular dystrophy: Hope through research.