How Muscular Dystrophy Is Treated

Unfortunately, there is no known cure for muscular dystrophy, but researchers are making advances that continue to improve the quality of lives of people living with the illness. Today, patients often turn to a variety of conventional and alternative medicine options to help treat disease symptoms and complications. The most beneficial ones very much depend on the type of MD one has and their individual case, but options range from steroids and other prescriptions to respiratory and speech therapy to surgery and more.

 

Prescriptions

Certain medications are used to treat muscular dystrophy, including corticosteroids (to slow muscle degeneration), anticonvulsants (to control seizures and some muscle activity), immunosuppressants (to delay some damage to dying muscle cells), and antibiotics (to fight respiratory infections). But these medications may have severe side effects when taken for prolonged periods of time.

In instances where other health issues overlap with MD, a physician may prescribe additional medications such as angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors or beta blockers, if heart issues are present.

For patients with Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD), the Food and Drug Administration has approved a medication called Eteplirsen, or Exondys 51. This drug is unique because it’s designed to treat the dystrophin protein deficiency caused by a genetic variant of the disease.   

Therapies

Treatment for muscular dystrophy often includes physical therapy, occupational therapy, respiratory therapyspeech therapy, orthopedic appliances used for support, and corrective orthopedic surgery.

In some cases, muscular dystrophy patients may need respiratory therapy as well, to assist with ventilation when the respiratory muscles become weak.

Surgeries and Specialist-Driven Procedures

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), some MD patients may require surgery to aid several issues that may result from their disease.

The problems that could require surgical intervention include:

  • The placement of a pacemaker
  • A curvature of the spine or scoliosis
  • The removal of cataracts from the eyes
  • The placement of a tracheostomy tube into the windpipe to assist with breathing problems

Complementary Alternative Medicine (CAM)

To date, few studies have tested the use of alternative medicine in the treatment of muscular dystrophy. If you're considering the use of any type of alternative medicine in the treatment of muscular dystrophy, it's important to consult your physician (or your child's pediatrician) before beginning treatment. Self-treating muscular dystrophy with alternative medicine and avoiding or delaying standard care may have serious consequences.

Some options you may hear about include:

Qigong

Qigong—the ancient Chinese mind-body practice of linking breath, meditation, and movement—may improve well-being in people with muscular dystrophy, according to a 2004 study published in Disability and Rehabilitation. The study involved 28 patients with muscular dystrophy, some of whom reported improvements in mental, physical, and psychosocial well-being (in addition to a reduction in stress levels) after practicing qigong.

Dietary Supplements

Several small studies show that dietary supplements may benefit muscular dystrophy patients. For instance, a 2006 study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that supplementation with amino acids helped inhibit whole-body protein degradation (a hallmark of Duchenne muscular dystrophy). The study involved 26 boys with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, each of whom was treated with amino acid supplements for 10 days.

Preliminary research also indicates that creatine (an amino acid that helps provide muscle cells with energy) may help treat muscular dystrophy as well.

However, in a 2005 study of 50 boys with Duchenne muscular dystrophy (published in Annals of Neurology), scientists found that six months of treatment with creatine supplements failed to improve muscle strength in participants.

Green Tea

Green tea may be of some benefit to people with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, according to preliminary research published in the American Journal of Physiology: Cell Physiology in 2006. In tests on mice, researchers found that epigallocatechin gallate (an antioxidant found in green tea) may help protect against muscle wasting caused by muscular dystrophy. However, it's too soon to tell whether green tea may have the same effect on humans.

Sources:

Dorchies OM, Wagner S, Vuadens O, Waldhauser K, Buetler TM, Kucera P, Ruegg UT. "Green Tea Extract and Its Major Polyphenol (-)-Epigallocatechin Gallate Improve Muscle Function in a Mouse Model for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy." Am J Physiol Cell Physiol. 2006 Feb;290(2):C616-25.

Escolar DM, Buyse G, Henricson E, Leshner R, Florence J, Mayhew J, Tesi-Rocha C, Gorni K, Pasquali L, Patel KM, McCarter R, Huang J, Mayhew T, Bertorini T, Carlo J, Connolly AM, Clemens PR, Goemans N, Iannaccone ST, Igarashi M, Nevo Y, Pestronk A, Subramony SH, Vedanarayanan VV, Wessel H; CINRG Group. "CINRG Randomized Controlled Trial of Creatine and Glutamine in Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy." Ann Neurol. 2005 Jul;58(1):151-5.

Felber S, Skladal D, Wyss M, Kremser C, Koller A, Sperl W. "Oral Creatine Supplementation in Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy: a Clinical and 31p Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy Study."  Neurol Res. 2000 Mar;22(2):145-50.

Mok E, Eléouet-Da Violante C, Daubrosse C, Gottrand F, Rigal O, Fontan JE, Cuisset JM, Guilhot J, Hankard R. "Oral Glutamine and Amino Acid Supplementation Inhibit Whole-Body Protein Degradation in Children With Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy." Am J Clin Nutr. 2006 Apr;83(4):823-8.

Nabukera SK, Romitti PA, Campbell KA, Meaney FJ, Caspers KM, Mathews KD, Hockett Sherlock SM, Puzhankara S, Cunniff C, Druschel CM, Pandya S, Matthews DJ, Ciafaloni E, Starnet M. "Use of Complementary and Alternative Medicine by Males With Duchenne or Becker Muscular Dystrophy." J Child Neurol. 2011 Dec 7.

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. "Muscular Dystrophy Information Page." November 14, 2011.

Pearlman JP, Fielding RA. "Creatine Monohydrate as a Therapeutic Aid in Muscular Dystrophy." Nutr Rev. 2006 Feb;64(2 Pt 1):80-8.

Wenneberg S, Gunnarsson LG, Ahlström G. "Using a Novel Exercise Programme for Patients With Muscular Dystrophy. Part I: a Qualitative Study." Disabil Rehabil. 2004 May 20;26(10):586-94.