Muscle Wasting Disease

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Muscle wasting disease, also called muscular dystrophy, cause the muscles in the body to gradually disappear, leaving flaccid skin and bone.

Such diseases affect many children and adults each year, and they can seriously impact not just your levels of physical activity, but your ability to live a conventional life and engage in daily activities like feeding yourself, caring for your children or navigating the world in general. Knowing the signs, symptoms and causes of muscle wasting diseases can help you identify the problem and deal with it effectively.


Muscle wasting is caused by a flaw in your muscle metabolism. Muscles produce proteins, which have specific tasks that make the muscles function. As you age, and sometimes because of a genetic disorder, your muscles start producing fewer proteins. When this happens, the muscles stop functioning as effectively and efficiently, and over time may start to atrophy, or waste away.


Muscle wasting disease starts with a general weakness in the affected muscles. It may be localised or it can encompass all of your muscles. You may feel fatigued and weak. In some cases, muscle wasting can also impact your heart and lungs. In these cases, subjects start to experience respiratory distress and may have coronary episodes or even heart attacks. Fainting may also occur.


There are many different types of muscle wasting diseases. Some are treatable, while others are genetic and can be slowed, but not stopped. Sarcopenia is a generalised, age-related form of muscle wasting. It can be delayed or halted entirely using an exercise regimen designed to counteract the muscles' natural tendency to atrophy as the body ages. However, other forms of muscle wasting disease are not so easily dealt with. Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) affects every muscle in the body. Symptoms manifest as early as two years of age, and subjects rarely live into their 30s, because the heart and lungs atrophy over the course of the disease. Becker muscular dystrophy (BMD) manifests itself in adolescence or early adulthood, with concentrations in the hips, pelvic area, thighs and shoulders. There is eventually some impact on the heart and lungs, but this tends to occur very late in the progress of the disease and patients often live to be middle aged or older. Limb-Girdle muscular dystrophy (LGMD) affects the shoulders and hips, effectively limiting the use of limbs over time. Steinert's disease affects how your muscles respond, with the occurrence of a significant delay in muscle contractions and release as subjects age. This disease can take 50 or 60 years to develop, and can manifest in newborns or lie undetected until adolescence or adulthood, depending on the severity.

Ageing and Muscle Wasting Disease

Most muscle wasting diseases become progressively more problematic and severe over time. However, some, like Steinert's disease, are congenital and can be detected at birth. Nearly all forms, including the natural progression of muscle wasting, will express themselves more distinctly if subjects adopt a sedentary lifestyle as they get older. Bedridden elderly people often develop muscle wasting diseases largely because they simply do not have the ability or opportunity to exercise the muscles and retain muscle tone.


If you suspect that you or a loved one might have a muscle wasting disease, do not wait to have it diagnosed. These are diseases that will not get better over time when untreated, and the longer you wait to deal with the disease or adapt your lifestyle to preserve your muscle function, the harder it will be to slow, halt or recover from the illness.