The several different types of muscular dystrophy all share the common characteristic of muscle weakness that typically manifests as difficulty walking and standing, falling over and clumsiness, according to WebMD. Severe forms of muscular dystrophy can cause breathing and heart problems due to weakening muscles in the lungs and heart.
Muscular dystrophy is caused by a faulty genetic mechanism that stops the body’s production of a muscle-building protein, explains WebMD. Most children born with the disease do not exhibit symptoms for the first few years of life, then they suddenly display mobility challenges. The most common and severe form, called Duchenne muscular dystrophy, begins between the ages of 2 and 5 with muscle weakness evident in the lower body, primarily the hips, legs and pelvis. Duchenne muscular dystrophy makes it hard for children to sit, rise from a prone position, climb stairs and walk with a steady gait. Sometimes their calves are overdeveloped and painful. These children usually need a wheelchair by age 12, and breathing difficulties may require a ventilator.
While Becker muscular dystrophy shares the symptoms of Duchenne muscular dystrophy, it first appears in an individual’s teenage years and develops more gradually, states WebMD. Myotonic dystrophy symptoms can begin at any age with weakness in the small muscles of the arms, hands, face and neck. Cataracts are a common symptom, as well as heart arrhythmia and learning difficulties. Some forms of myotonic dystrophy develop over many decades.