Becker muscular dystrophy is a genetic condition that results in your muscles becoming damaged and weakened over time, with eventual loss of muscle tissue (atrophy). If you have this condition, you can expect to begin experiencing problems walking during your teen years. Becker muscular dystrophy usually affects boys, with symptoms appearing between ages 5 and 15. There is more than one type of muscular dystrophy, and Becker is similar to another type known as Duchenne. Becker is less severe and less common.
Symptoms usually begin during childhood, but the condition may not become obvious for a number of years. Symptoms typically include:
- delays in walking and running for young children
- unexplained clumsiness
- cramps during exercise
- difficulty participating in sports at school
- weak muscles near your torso
- enlarged calf muscles
- difficulty lifting weights and climbing stairs
- falling and finding it hard to get up again
- heart problems
- learning and behavioral difficulties
- eventually, loss of the ability to walk
Most people with the condition can walk until at least age 16, but for some people, the disease develops later in life. Those who develop the disease later might be able to walk until their 20s or, in some cases, their 40s. Females generally experience much milder symptoms, if any.
The condition is caused by abnormality of the gene that is responsible for making a protein called dystrophin. Dystrophin helps keep muscle cells intact. Without this protein, your muscles can’t contract properly. You may inherit the abnormal dystrophin gene, or it may appear spontaneously.
Typically, when a women inherits an abnormal dystrophin gene she also gets a normal gene from her other parent. This means she has a healthy gene making enough of the protein dystrophin to defend her from most of the effects of the disease.
The disease almost always affects males, though it can occur in females. You’re at a higher risk if you have relatives with the condition.
Your doctor will examine you thoroughly, looking for deformed muscles and bones, abnormal heart rhythms, and muscle loss. Your doctor may order a number of tests, including:
- blood tests to measure the levels of enzymes released from damaged muscles
- electrical stimulation of nerves to measure your muscle function
- a muscle tissue sample to check for signs of muscular dystrophy
- gene analysis to look for an abnormal dystrophin gene
- tests of your heart and lung function
- X-rays of your spine
There is no cure for muscular dystrophy. Treatment aims to support you and improve your quality of life.
You may be given steroids. Steroids may help some people continue walking for longer than they would without treatment. Steroids reduce inflammation and protect muscle mass and function.
Sometimes, due to Becker muscular dystrophy, your muscles may become permanently shortened, or contracted, and surgery may be necessary to release and lengthen them.
If your spine becomes deformed, you may also need surgery to realign it.
If you have heart problems, you may need a pacemaker to regulate your heartbeat. In the case of respiratory difficulties, you may need to use special equipment to help you breathe normally.
You may be offered a number of different therapies to help you function in your everyday life, including:
- Speech therapy: This treatment can help in the later stages of muscular dystrophy if weak muscles are making speaking or swallowing difficult for you.
- Physical therapy: Physical therapy programs can help you remain mobile, stretch your tight muscles, and ensure that you don’t damage your joints. You may also learn ways to limit your energy use so that you don’t become overtired.
- Occupational therapy: This therapy can help you cope with everyday activities. You’ll learn to use adaptations in your home and special equipment to help you carry out essential tasks. An occupational therapist will also assess your need for mobility aids such as wheelchairs and scooters.
- Recreational therapy: This type of therapy focuses on helping you to take part in educational and leisure activities.
Becker muscular dystrophy typically gets worse over time and reduces life expectancy. The majority of people diagnosed with it live between 40 and 50 years. The outlook is different for each individual because the disease can vary in its severity. Heart problems and breathing difficulties are the major complications for people with this condition.
If you have relatives with Becker muscular dystrophy, you should seek genetic counseling if you’re thinking of starting a family. This is important whether you are male or female, as women can carry the defective gene without having the condition. A specialist can help you assess the risk of having a child with the condition and explain the various tests and choices available to you.