Often, people with LGMD first notice a problem when they begin to walk with a “waddling” gait because of weakness of the hip and leg muscles. They may have trouble getting out of chairs, rising from a toilet seat or climbing stairs.
Weakness in the shoulder area may make reaching over the head, holding the arms outstretched or carrying heavy objects difficult. It may become increasingly hard to keep the arms above the head for such activities as combing your hair or arranging things on a high shelf. Some people find it harder to type on a computer or other keyboard and may even have trouble feeding themselves.
Assistive devices, such as a cane or a long-handled reacher, can make things easier as weakness progresses.
A power wheelchair or scooter becomes convenient when weakness in the pelvic girdle and upper legs causes frequent falls. People whose LGMD has reached this stage often find that a great deal of their independence returns, and they’re much less fatigued, when they begin using this type of vehicle.
The heart can be affected in LGMD, but this doesn’t occur as often as it does in some other forms of muscular dystrophy. Heart problems can take two forms — weakness of the heart muscle (cardiomyopathy) and abnormal transmission of signals that regulate the heartbeat (conduction abnormalities or arrhythmias). The heart should be monitored for these complications. When necessary, medications or devices (such as pacemakers) can be used to treat them.
Respiratory (breathing) function can decline over time, and this, too, should be monitored regularly. There are devices that can help sustain respiratory function.
LGMD, like other muscular dystrophies, is primarily a disorder of voluntary muscles. These are the muscles you use to move the limbs, neck, trunk and other parts of the body that are under voluntary control.
The involuntary muscles, except for the heart (which is a special type of involuntary muscle), aren’t affected in LGMD. Digestion, bowel and bladder functions and sexual function, which are carried out by involuntary muscles, remain normal.
Pain isn’t a major part of LGMD, although limited mobility sometimes leads to muscle soreness and aching joints.
Exercises to keep joints limber, moving around as much as possible, warm baths and, if needed, medication can keep this kind of discomfort to a minimum.
The brain, the intellect and the senses are unaffected in LGMD. People with LGMD can think, see, hear and feel sensations as well as those without muscular dystrophy.
To learn more, read In Focus: Limb-Girdle Muscular Dystrophy (October 2013 special report).