Muscular dystrophy is the name given to a group of nearly 30 genetically inherited diseases all characterized by progressive weakness and degeneration of muscles in different parts of the body.
Fatigue is a symptom that commonly affects muscular dystrophy patients. It is characterized by a feeling of tiredness while carrying out tasks because the muscles are weak and unable to handle the demands required for the activity.
Types of fatigue
Fatigue can be acute or chronic.
Acute fatigue refers to the feeling of tiredness while doing a particular activity because the muscles do not have sufficient energy to accomplish the task.
Chronic fatigue refers to a persistent or long-lasting feeling of tiredness because the diseased muscles have lost the capacity to maintain a maximum level of force.
Fatigue can adversely affect mood, attention span, memory, thinking, and communication skills.
Causes of fatigue
Several factors can contribute to fatigue in muscular dystrophy patients:
- The weakened muscles cannot generate enough muscle force to perform or sustain an activity.
- Respiratory insufficiency is a common feature of muscular dystrophies, which can cause low oxygen and high carbon dioxide levels and lead to fatigue.
- Many muscular dystrophy patients, especially those with Duchenne and Becker muscular dystrophies, experience sleep disturbances (apnea) and depression that can affect their energy levels during the day and cause fatigue.
- Disrupted blood flow to the muscles can also reduce a person’s ability to sustain contractions, causing fatigue.
- Heart dysfunction and heart disease are common in muscular dystrophy and can be a cause of fatigue.
- Regular exercise can help overcome fatigue. Physical therapists can recommend the right kind of exercises to improve muscle strength. Aerobic exercise can increase blood flow, whereas muscle-building exercises such as weights or resistance training can help in increasing muscle strength, boosting energy levels, and improving mood and sleep quality.
- An occupational therapist can teach energy conservation techniques, so that body movements are more efficient, thus overcoming fatigue.
- Taking short naps during the day can help overcome fatigue, especially for those with sleep disturbances or sleep apnea.
- Nutritious foods can boost energy levels and help overcome fatigue.
- Assistive devices such as a cane, walker, scooter, or wheelchair can help reduce fatigue.
- A healthcare provider can prescribe appropriate medications to overcome stress, anxiety, mood problems, and depression. This can help overcome fatigue.
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