Muscular dystrophy refers to a group of related genetic disorders characterized by muscle weakness and wasting. There is no cure for muscular dystrophy, but there are treatments available to manage symptoms, and, in some cases, slow disease progression. Corticosteroids are a type of treatment that may be prescribed for some types of muscular dystrophy.
How corticosteroids treat muscular dystrophy
Corticosteroids are small molecules that are structurally similar to a hormone in the body called cortisol, which reduces inflammation. Cortisol is produced by the adrenal glands, the small glands situated over the kidneys. Corticosteroids have a similar effect to cortisol, but are generally stronger and longer-lasting. Treatment with corticosteroids has been shown to preserve muscle strength in some types of muscular dystrophy. While the mechanism for this is unclear, researchers think they may reduce inflammation in muscle tissue, and strengthen muscle cell membranes, which are damaged in muscular dystrophy.
Some types of muscular dystrophy are caused by the aggregation, or clumping, of faulty proteins, which can cause inflammation. These clumped proteins are often targeted by the immune system, increasing muscle cell death.
Other types of muscular dystrophy are caused by faults in structural or connective proteins. These faults also can cause protein aggregation, and damage the connections between cells and their surroundings. Without the appropriate support structure, muscle cells become fragile, and can be easily damaged.
Corticosteroids may preserve muscle tissue by reducing both inflammation and immune system attacks on those tissues. They also may speed up the processes that are involved in repairing cell membranes.
What corticosteroids are prescribed for muscular dystrophy?
There are many types of corticosteroids that may be prescribed for muscular dystrophy. These include:
- Deflazacort – a corticosteroid precursor that is metabolized to its functional form in the body.
- Prednisone – now available from many companies as a generic.
Corticosteroid medications can cause side effects, including weight gain, osteoporosis (weakening of the bones), glaucoma (increased pressure in the fluid of the eyes), high blood pressure, and fluid retention. Fluid retention, in turn, may cause swelling in the legs.
Last updated 07/09/2019
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