Muscular Dystrophy Life Expectancy

Muscular dystrophies are a group of genetic diseases that impact the functioning of muscles. There are several variants of muscular dystrophy and each carries a different prognosis. Since each muscular dystrophy is unique, there are different life spans for each type. 

Unfortunately, there are no effective treatments that halt the progression of muscular dystrophy. All current treatments for muscular dystrophy are focused on symptom management. Some people with muscular dystrophy will require a wheelchair to move around.

Often, people diagnosed with muscular dystrophy will live shortened life spans, depending on the type and involvement of their muscular dystrophy. In this article, we'll discuss the types of muscular dystrophy and the general life expectancies of each type.

How Can Muscular Dystrophy Lower Life Expectancy?

The various types of muscular dystrophy often impact the function of the heart and cause a heart disease known as called cardiomyopathy. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for patients with muscular dystrophy.

Management of muscular dystrophy and heart disease often requires a specialist such as a cardiologist. Recent advances in cardiovascular disease treatment have also helped patients with muscular dystrophy live longer and healthier lives.

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Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy

Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) is the most common type of muscular dystrophy. The first symptoms of DMD start to appear between the ages of 2 and 6. Unfortunately, the disease is progressive. By the ages of 12–13, many people with DMD will require a wheelchair to get around.

Life expectancy for DMD is usually around the ages of 16 to the early 20s. Some people may live longer if the disease onset is later or if complications such as cardiomyopathy are less severe.

Becker Muscular Dystrophy

Becker muscular dystrophy (BMD) is known to share many similarities with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, but symptoms are notably less severe than in DMD. Often BMD symptoms start later in life. People with BMD also have a better prognosis compared to those with DMD.

The most common complications of BMD are heart diseases such as cardiomyopathy and arrhythmias, problems with heart rate or rhythm. Due in part to advances in the treatment of cardiovascular disease, patients with BMD continue to live longer each year. The life span for patients with Becker muscular dystrophy tends to be longer than DMD, with some patients living into their 30s or 40s. 

Congenital Muscular Dystrophy

The congenital muscular dystrophies are a collection of disorders that are present at birth with other genetic disorders. The congenital muscular dystrophies are usually associated with muscular dystrophy symptoms such as weakness, but importantly, they do not usually progress throughout life. The life span of those with congenital muscular dystrophy is highly variable and can change as a result of the specific genetic disorder that is inherited.

Distal Muscular Dystrophy

Distal muscular dystrophy is a disorder that affects the muscles in the arms, lower legs, and throat. Symptoms usually develop during adulthood and progressively worsen over time. Because symptoms start at a later age, this disorder does not significantly reduce life span.

Emery-Dreifuss Muscular Dystrophy

Emery-Dreifuss muscular dystrophy impacts the muscles for movement and the heart muscle. The heart is the most impacted muscle and is prone to developing arrhythmias. Symptoms develop in adulthood and can include an unusually slow heartbeat or fainting. The treatments for Emery-Dreifuss muscular dystrophy are focused on supporting heart function.

The life span for those living with Emery-Dreifuss muscular dystrophy is impacted by the degree of cardiovascular disease and is, therefore, variable. 

Facioscapulohumeral Muscular Dystrophy

Facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy (FSHD) is a complex genetic disorder that affects the muscles in the face, clavicle, and shoulder. FSHD is the third most common muscular dystrophy, but it does not significantly impact life expectancy.

Limb-Girdle Muscular Dystrophy

Limb-girdle muscular dystrophy impacts the muscles of the hips, pelvis, and shoulders. The age of onset of this disease is variable and can impact children starting around the age of 10 or adults around the age of 30. There are many variants of Limb-girdle muscular dystrophy, and some people exhibit symptoms that progressively worsen over time.

Overall, life expectancy is not significantly reduced for those living with limb-girdle muscular dystrophy.

Oculopharyngeal Muscular Dystrophy

Oculopharyngeal muscular dystrophy impacts the muscles that control eye movement and the muscles that help swallow. This is a very rare form of muscular dystrophy, so data on the condition are limited. However, it is thought that this form does not significantly affect life expectancy.

Tibial Muscular Dystrophy

Tibial muscular dystrophy affects the muscles in the lower leg near the shins. Symptoms usually develop after the age of 35 and progressively impact walking.

Since this muscular dystrophy manifests at a later age, it does not significantly impact life expectancy. Those with tibial muscular dystrophy can expect to live full lives.

Myotonic Muscular Dystrophy

Myotonic muscular dystrophy (abbreviated as DM) is a disorder that causes weakness in the muscles and an inability to relax the muscles. The disorder is more commonly identified in adults, although some children may be born with muscular dystrophy.

The two variants of DM are type 1 and type 2. Type 2 DM generally carries a better prognosis. The symptoms are usually mild and start in adulthood. In contrast, children born with congenital type 1 DM have shortened life expectancies and may live into their 20s.

Summary

People with muscular dystrophy will often live shorter-than-average life spans. However, this can vary depending on the type and involvement of their muscular dystrophy. 

Duchenne muscular dystrophy is the most common type of muscular dystrophy. Life expectancy with this type is around the ages of 16 to the early 20s. Becker muscular dystrophy has higher life expectancy, usually in the 30s. Some muscular dystrophies are highly variable, such as congenital, Emery-Dreifuss, and myotonic. Other muscular dystrophies don't affect life expectancy as much, including Distal muscular dystrophy, facioscapulohumeral, limb-girdle, oculopharyngeal, and tibial.

A Word From Verywell

Muscular dystrophies are a challenging topic to try to understand. It is completely natural to feel overwhelmed with all the information out there. Know that, despite the challenges, many people with muscular dystrophy are able to live fulfilling and meaningful lives. 

Frequently Asked Questions

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

    The life expectancy is variable for children with muscular dystrophy and depends on the specific disorder. 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 and carries the worst prognosis. Often children with DMD will require a wheelchair to get around and have a shortened life span.

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7 Sources
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