What are the treatment options for duchenne muscular dystrophy?

There is no known cure for Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) but research is ongoing. The goal of treatment is to control the symptoms of DMD and related complications caused by severe progressive muscle weakness and loss in order to maximize the quality of life. An enlarged, weakened heart (dilated cardiomyopathy) may be treated with medications, but in severe cases a heart transplant may be necessary. Assistive devices for breathing difficulties may be needed, especially at night and as the disease progresses.

Gentle exercise is encouraged for people with DMD. Physical inactivity (such as bed rest) can worsen the muscle disease, but so can overexertion. Physical therapy may be helpful to maintain muscle strength and function. Orthopedic devices (such as braces and wheelchairs) may improve the ability to move and take care of oneself.

Steroids (corticosteroids) may improve the strength and function of muscles in people with DMD, including lung function. Steroid options include:

  • Prednisone is a steroid that has been shown to extend the ability to walk by 2 to 5 years. However, the possible side effects of prednisone include weight gain, high blood pressure, behavior changes, and delayed growth.
  • Deflazacort (another form of prednisone), is used in Europe and believed to have fewer side effects and was recently approved in the United States by the FDA.
  • Oxandrolone, a medication used in a research study, also has similar benefits to prednisone, but with fewer side effects.
  • The U.S. Food and Drug Administration  of United States approved Exondys 51 (eteplirsen) injection to treat people with DMD who have a change in the DMD gene that will allow a shortened form of dystrophin to be made if exon 51 is skipped. An exon is the part of the gene that actually codes for the protein. The DMD gene has 79 exons. About 13% of those with DMD may be helped by Exondys 51.

Because chronic use of corticosteroids can lead to side effects, and rapid withdrawal of corticosteroids can result in life-threatening complications, there are recommended guidelines on how to proceed with withdrawal. The PJ Nicholoff Protocol guides withdrawal from corticosteroids following long term treatment.

The Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) has current information about the medical management of DMD.







  • "Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy."  Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.


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