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Muscular dystrophy or MD is a group of hereditary diseases that affect the creation of muscle proteins. Symptoms generally start at a very early age and are characterized by progressive weakening of the skeletal muscles and the death of muscle cells and muscle tissue. The term is used properly to describe a group of nine diseases that present with nearly identical symptoms but each have a different genetic cause, but MD also shows similarities to about 100 other diseases that present similarly.
Although all diseases classified at MD affect muscle, different forms can also attack other parts of the body such as the heart, digestive tract, nerves, skin, eyes and brain. Although most sufferers have normal intelligence, certain forms can also lead to personality and learning disorders.
The main symptoms apart from muscle weakness are poor balance, drooping eyelids, atrophy of the hormonal glands, loss of bowel control, curvature of the spine and back, inability to walk or severe difficulty in walking, limited range of movement and breathing difficulties. A final diagnosis can be reached with a muscle biopsy or a DNA test.
The condition cannot be cured and is difficult to treat, although certain new drug therapies are showing promise. Physical activity seems to alleviate symptoms, and inactivity makes them worse.
The Muscular Dystrophy Association was formed in 1966 and it's annual telethon with performer Jerry Lewis has made great strides in raising public awareness of the disease.