Muscular dystrophy and multiple sclerosis can affect mobility, breathing, speaking, and muscle control. But they have distinct causes, affect different parts of the body, and have other differences.

Although muscular dystrophy (MD) and multiple sclerosis (MS) may seem similar, the two disorders are different.

They have some symptoms in common but affect the body in different ways. MD and MS also have different causes and outlooks.

Muscular dystrophy (MD) is a group of genetic disorders that gradually weaken and damage the muscles. With MD, the protective membrane around the muscle fibers becomes damaged, damaging and destroying the muscle fibers. The reason for this varies by the type of MD.

MD is a progressive disorder that gradually worsens as muscle fibers die. MD can affect different parts of the body and become life threatening.

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a central nervous system disorder that affects the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerve, which is responsible for vision. The disorder disrupts communication between the brain and body and within the brain itself. It’s an immune-mediated disorder, which means it results from an immune response in which the body’s immune cells mistakenly damage the body.

With MS, people can experience periods where symptoms are reduced or disappear (remission) and periods where symptoms worsen (relapse). MS is not fatal.


People develop MD due to specific genetic alterations in:

  • the gene involved in making proteins that protect muscle fibers from damage
  • genes in the muscle fibers themselves
  • genes in the connective tissue surrounding muscle fibers

The cause of MS is unknown, but researchers believe it may develop due to a combination of genetic and environmental factors, potentially including viral infections. Doctors consider it an autoimmune disease in which the immune system destroys myelin. This is a fatty substance that protects brain and spinal cord nerve fibers.


MD refers to a group of about 30 disorders, depending on the part of the body affected. These include:

MS is a single disease with four types. These are:


Symptoms of the most common type of MD (Duchenne) begin in early childhood. Other types can occur from infant to adult. Different forms of MD weaken different muscle groups that can affect:

  • breathing
  • swallowing
  • standing
  • walking
  • heart function
  • joints
  • facial muscles
  • spine
  • other muscles and body functions

According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, the average age of onset is 20-40 years old. But children can also develop MS. The effects of MS are different for everyone but common symptoms include:

  • pain
  • fatigue
  • muscle spasticity or tenseness
  • issues with vision
  • memory
  • hearing
  • speaking
  • breathing
  • swallowing
  • balance
  • muscle control
  • bladder and bowel control
  • sexual function
  • other body functions


MD and MS have no known cure, but treatment can manage symptoms and slow progression.

Treatment for MD may include:

  • medications to slow muscle degeneration, such as steroids and immunosuppressive drugs
  • gene therapy drugs
  • medications to treat symptoms
  • therapy, including physical, occupational, and speech
  • devices to help maintain their mobility and respiration

Treatment for MS may include:

  • disease-modifying treatments, which can reduce the inflammatory response
  • medications to reduce the severity and frequency of relapses, such as steroids
  • other medications to treat symptoms, such as pain relievers, medications for fatigue or spasticity, and others
  • devices, such as canes, to support mobility
  • complementary therapies, such as yoga, acupuncture, and others


MD typically affects a person’s life expectancy. As the muscles become damaged and treatments become less effective, MD becomes fatal. The life expectancy can vary by the type of MS.

Though MS can affect a person’s quality of life, the disease is not typically fatal. A person with MS has a life expectancy similar to those without MS.

Is MS the same as muscular dystrophy?

MS and muscular dystrophy are different disorders that affect different parts of the body and have different outcomes. MS affects the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerve. Muscular dystrophy affects muscle groups in the body.

Can you have muscular dystrophy and multiple sclerosis?

It is possible for people to have a form of muscular dystrophy and also develop MS. However, it is rare.

What are 3 signs of muscular dystrophy?

Early indicators of muscular dystrophy can include weakness in a specific muscle group, such as the legs, arms, or facial muscles, frequent muscle pain, and frequent muscle stiffness.

While MD and MS may have similar symptoms, they are different in how they affect the body.

MD affects the muscles. MS affects the central nervous system. While MD is life threatening, MS is not.

There’s no known cure for either disorder, but treatment can help manage symptoms and slow disease progression.