How Long Can You Live With Muscular Dystrophy?

Prognosis and life expectancy vary depending on the type of muscular dystrophy

The life expectancy for a person with muscular dystrophy depends on which type they have. Some people have a full life with muscular dystrophy and live as long as people who do not have it. Other people with muscular dystrophy have a reduced life span.

Muscular dystrophies are a group of genetic diseases that affect the muscles. There are several types of muscular dystrophy and each affects a person's life in a different way. Each muscular dystrophy is unique, and there are different life spans for each type. 

Why Does Muscular Dystrophy Lower Life Expectancy?

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for people living with muscular dystrophy. Each type of muscular dystrophy can affect the function of the heart. It can also lead to a type of heart disease called cardiomyopathy.

A person with muscular dystrophy and heart disease will need to work with a cardiologist to manage both conditions.

There are no treatments to stop the progression of muscular dystrophy. Current treatments for muscular dystrophy are focused on managing symptoms and helping a person live well with the condition. For example, some people with muscular dystrophy use a wheelchair to move around.

This article will go over the types of muscular dystrophy and how each type affects a person's life expectancy.

Muscular Dystrophy Type and Average Life Expectancy

Verywell / Joules Garcia

Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy Life Expectancy

The life expectancy for a person with Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) is between the ages of 16 to the early 20s. Some people can live longer if the disease starts later or if complications of the condition like cardiomyopathy are not severe.

DMD is the most common type of muscular dystrophy. The first symptoms of DMD show up between the ages of 2 and 6. This type of muscular dystrophy is progressive—by the age of 12 or 13, many people with DMD need a wheelchair to get around.

Becker Muscular Dystrophy Life Expectancy

The life span for people with Becker muscular dystrophy (BMD) tends to be longer than it is for people with DMD. Some people with BMD live into their 30s or 40s.

BMD is similar to DMD but the symptoms are less severe. BMD symptoms also tend to start later in life, and people with BMD usually have better outcomes than people with DMD.

The most common complications of BMD are heart diseases like cardiomyopathy and problems with heart rate or rhythm (arrhythmias). However, research on better treatment is helping patients with BMD live longer.

Congenital Muscular Dystrophy Life Expectancy

The life expectancy for people with congenital muscular dystrophies can vary a lot. It also depends on the specific genetic disorder that is inherited.

The congenital muscular dystrophies are a collection of disorders that are present at birth along with other genetic disorders.

While a person with congenital muscular dystrophies may have muscular dystrophy symptoms such as weakness, the symptoms usually do not progress throughout their life.

Distal Muscular Dystrophy Life Expectancy

Distal muscular dystrophy does not usually reduce a person's life span because the symptoms come on when they're older.

Distal muscular dystrophy affects the muscles of the arms, lower legs, and throat. The symptoms usually start in adulthood and get progressively worse over time.

Emery-Dreifuss Muscular Dystrophy Life Expectancy

The life expectancy for a person with Emery-Dreifuss muscular dystrophy depends on how much their heart has been damaged by the condition.

Emery-Dreifuss muscular dystrophy affects the muscles for movement and the heart muscle. The heart is the most affected muscle and often develops arrhythmias.

The symptoms of Emery-Dreifuss muscular dystrophy show up in adulthood and can include an unusually slow heartbeat or fainting. The treatments for Emery-Dreifuss muscular dystrophy are focused on supporting a person's heart function. 

Facioscapulohumeral Muscular Dystrophy Life Expectancy

Facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy (FSHD) does not significantly reduce a person's life expectancy.

FSHD is a complex genetic disorder. It is the third most common muscular dystrophy and affects the muscles in the face, clavicle, and shoulder.

Limb-Girdle Muscular Dystrophy Life Expectancy

Limb-girdle muscular dystrophy does not have a big effect on life expectancy.

Limb-girdle muscular dystrophy mostly affects the muscles of the hips, pelvis, and shoulders. The age when symptoms begin can vary. Children may have symptoms starting around the age of 10 but it can also show up in adults at around the age of 30.

There are many variants of Limb-girdle muscular dystrophy. Some people have symptoms that get worse throughout their life.

Oculopharyngeal Muscular Dystrophy Life Expectancy

Oculopharyngeal muscular dystrophy is not believed to affect life expectancy. It is a very rare form of muscular dystrophy and there is not a lot of research on it.

Oculopharyngeal muscular dystrophy affects the muscles that control eye movement and the muscles that help with swallowing.

Tibial Muscular Dystrophy Life Expectancy

A person with tibial muscular dystrophy can expect to live a full life because it usually show up at a later age than other forms of muscular dystrophy.

Tibial muscular dystrophy affects the muscles in the lower leg near the shins. The symptoms usually start after the age of 35 but they will progressively affect a person's ability to walk

Myotonic Muscular Dystrophy Life Expectancy

Myotonic muscular dystrophy (DM) has two variants that affect life expectancy differently.

  • In type 2 DM, the symptoms are usually mild and start in adulthood, so a person's life span is not affected much.
  • Children born with congenital type 1 DM have shortened life expectancies and may only live into their 20s.

Myotonic muscular dystrophy causes muscle weakness. It also makes a person unable to relax those muscles. The disorder is more commonly diagnosed in adults, but some babies are born with it.


People with muscular dystrophy may have shorter-than-average life spans, but it depends on which type they have and how severe the disease is.

  • Duchenne muscular dystrophy is the most common type of muscular dystrophy. The life expectancy for this type is around the ages of 16 to the early 20s.
  • Becker muscular dystrophy has a higher life expectancy, usually in the 30s.
  • Some muscular dystrophies, such as congenital, Emery-Dreifuss, and myotonic, affect life expectancy in different ways depending on how severe they are.
  • Other muscular dystrophies, like Distal muscular dystrophy, facioscapulohumeral, limb-girdle, oculopharyngeal, and tibial, do not affect life expectancy as much.

Researchers are working on understanding the different forms of the condition as well as coming up with treatments that will help people with muscular dystrophy live longer.

A Word From Verywell

Muscular dystrophies are not always fatal. While some types of muscular dystrophy can shorten a person's life expectancy, people with other forms of the disease live full, average-length lives.

If you or a loved one has muscular dystrophy, learning all that you can about the disease and what to expect over time will help you feel more empowered.

Working with your providers on treatments and getting the help that you need is part of living well with whichever form of muscular dystrophy you have. Also know that scientists are learning more about muscular dystrophy and working on new ways to treat the condition.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the life expectancy for a child with muscular dystrophy?

    The life expectancy for children with muscular dystrophy depends on the type they have and how severe it is. For example, children with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, the most common form, may live to their late teens or 20s. 

  • What is the most severe form of muscular dystrophy?

    Duchenne muscular dystrophy is the most severe muscular dystrophy. Kids with DMD have a shorter life span and usually need a wheelchair.

  • Is muscular dystrophy always fatal?

    Muscular dystrophy is not always fatal. Each type of muscular dystrophy affects a person's life expectancy differently.

    Some people live a normal life with muscular dystrophy while others will live for a shorter time than average.

7 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.
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  2. Venugopal V, Pavlakis S. Duchenne muscular dystrophy. In: StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing; 2021.

  3. LaPelusa A, Kentris M. Muscular dystrophy. In: StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing; 2021.

  4. MedlinePlus. Emery-Dreifuss Muscular Dystrophy. Updated Aug 18th, 2020.

  5. Zernov N, Skoblov M. Genotype-phenotype correlations in FSHD. BMC Med Genomics. 2019;12(Suppl 2):43. doi:10.1186/s12920-019-0488-5

  6. Mahmoud OA, Jiang XM. Limb-girdle muscular dystrophies: Where next after six decades from the first proposal (Review). Mol Med Rep. 2014;9(5):1515-1532. doi:10.3892/mmr.2014.2048

  7. Muscular Dystrophy Association. Myotonic dystrophy.

By Kevin James Cyr
Kevin is a physician-in-training at Stanford University School of Medicine with a focus in cardiovascular disease and bioengineering. His publications have earned international awards, and his work has been featured in major media outlets such as NBC News.