Muscular Dystrophy Facts and Statistics: What You Need to Know

Muscular dystrophy (MD) is a grouping of over 30 different genetic conditions that affect the function of the body’s muscles. The different forms of this disease vary in presentation and prognosis, with the most common version (Duchenne MD) affecting roughly 1 out of every 3,500 to 5,000 boys.

This article will review statistics and facts about the various forms of muscular dystrophy.

Muscular Dystrophy Overview

The hallmark sign of MD is the progressive weakening and deterioration of the muscles in the body that control movement.

These genetic disorders arise at different times and affect various body areas, depending on the type. They are, however, almost universally progressive in nature.

MD can ultimately hinder your ability to walk independently and make you rely more on others to perform daily activities.

Is There a Cure for MD?

While there is currently no cure for this cluster of diseases, treatments can help manage the symptoms and (in more severe versions) prolong your lifespan.

How Common Is Muscular Dystrophy?

The incidence of MD varies widely and depends on the version of the disease.

About 1 out of every 3,500 to 5,000 males in the United States is diagnosed with Duchenne MD, a severe version that impacts young children and causes premature mortality. Becker MD—a similar form of the disease that usually appears later in life—also occurs at roughly the same frequency.

Other versions of this diagnosis are less common, however. These include:

  • Myotonic MD: A variation that usually arises between the ages of 10 and 30 and is seen in approximately 8 out of every 100,000 people
  • Facioscapulohumeral (FSHD): Affects the facial, shoulder, and upper arm muscles of young adults; less common and only seen in 4 out of every 100,000 individuals

Finally, other types of muscular dystrophy are relatively rare. These include diseases like:

All of these are generally diagnosed in fewer than 1 out of every 100,000 people.

Muscular Dystrophy by Ethnicity

Several types of muscular dystrophy tend to be more common in certain ethnicities. For example, Duchenne MD and Becker MD seem to occur at higher rates in Hispanic individuals than in White or Black Americans.

One review found that 1.5 of every 10,000 Hispanics (aged 5 to 24) were diagnosed with one of these two MD variations. This compares with 1.45 out of every 10,000 White individuals and just 0.63 out of every 10,000 Black individuals.

These numbers, and the reasons for their differences, are still being investigated. It is possible, however, that certain factors may play a role in any ethnic variations that are seen, including:

  • Access to health care
  • Early and consistent genetic surveillance
  • Shifting reproductive patterns

Muscular Dystrophy by Age & Gender

While some forms of muscular dystrophy primarily affect one gender and appear earlier in life, others are seen later on in both genders. For example:

  • Duchenne MD: Almost exclusively develops in young males before the age of 5 because of the way the disease affects a protein on the X chromosome
  • Becker MD: Primarily seen in males, though this variation typically occurs later in the preteen years

By contrast, several of the other rarer versions of MD affect males and females equally. This includes:

Causes of Muscular Dystrophy and Risk Factors

MD is inherited when a genetic abnormality from one (or both) parents is passed on to a child. Because of the hereditary nature of these conditions, having a family history of MD puts you at a greater risk of developing the disorder yourself. 

This is not the case with everyone, however. In many instances of MD, one or both parents are carriers of the genetic mutation without actually having the condition themselves. As a result, the disease is unknowingly passed to their offspring through recessive inheritance.

Are All Cases of MD Genetic?

Certain versions of muscular dystrophy can also occur without any history of a family member carrying or having the disease. For example, about 25% of Duchenne MD cases are considered to be spontaneous and cannot be tracked to the parent’s genetics.

What Is the Typical Life Span With Muscular Dystrophy?

The expected life span for people with muscular dystrophy varies widely depending on which type you have, as follows:

  • Duchenne MD is unfortunately fatal in all cases, though advances in the medical management of the disease have made it possible to live into your 30s or even your 40s.
  • Becker MD, which is typically milder and arises later in life, with a life expectancy of middle age or even older with proper treatment

Other rarer forms of muscular dystrophy have much more variable lifespans associated with them. For example:

  • Congenital muscular dystrophy causes some children to pass away during infancy, while others live into adulthood with only mild symptoms.
  • Emery-Dreifuss MD, which typically begins by age 10, usually causes fatal cardiovascular or pulmonary complications during the mid-adult years.
  • Oculopharyngeal or facioscapulohumeral MD (causing weakness in muscles of the face, uppler arm, lower leg scapular, and hips) may cause significant symptoms, but they do not necessarily shorten the affected individual’s life span.

Screening and Early Detection

A number of screening and early detection tools can be utilized when looking for muscular dystrophy.

Expectant parents may undergo genetic counseling to help determine whether one or both are carriers of a mutated gene. This can involve testing a sample of the woman’s amniotic fluid (called an amniocentesis) or taking a biopsy of a tiny piece of the mother’s placenta to be analyzed in the lab.

Various other tests may also be used to detect and diagnose muscular dystrophy when suspected. These include:

A thorough examination by a healthcare provider can help determine which diagnostic tool is appropriate for your situation.

Summary

Muscular dystrophy is a grouping of over 30 types of genetic disorders. These conditions affect the ability of certain muscles to function and can cause significant disability.

The typical presentation and life span associated with these symptoms vary greatly depending on the type of muscular dystrophy you have.

A timely examination and diagnostic workup by a healthcare provider are necessary to guarantee that the appropriate medical management tools are utilized. 

5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Muscular dystrophy.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What is muscular dystrophy?

  3. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Muscular dystrophy: hope through research.

  4. Romitti PA, Zhu Y, Puzhankara S, et al. Prevalence of Duchenne and Becker muscular dystrophies in the United States. Pediatrics. 2015;135(3):513-521. doi:10.1542/peds.2014-2044

  5. Muscular Dystrophy Association. Duchenne muscular dystrophy fact sheet.

By Tim Petrie, DPT, OCS
Tim Petrie, DPT, OCS, is a board-certified orthopedic specialist who has practiced as a physical therapist for more than a decade.