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Limb-girdle muscular dystrophies

Muscular dystrophy - limb-girdle type (LGMD)


Limb-girdle muscular dystrophies include at least 18 different inherited disorders. (There are 16 known genetic forms.) These disorders first affect the muscles around the shoulder girdle and hips. These diseases get worse. Eventually, it may involve other muscles.



Limb-girdle muscular dystrophies are a large group of genetic diseases in which there is muscle weakness and wasting (muscular dystrophy).

In most cases, both parents must pass on the non-working (defective) gene for a child to have the disease (autosomal recessive inheritance). In some rare types, only one parent needs to pass on the non-working gene to affect the child. This is called autosomal dominant inheritance. For 16 of these conditions, the defective gene has been discovered. For others, the gene is not yet known.

An important risk factor is having a family member with muscular dystrophy .




Most often, the first sign is pelvic muscle weakness. Examples of this include trouble standing from a sitting position without using the arms, or difficulty climbing stairs. The weakness starts in childhood to young adulthood.

Other symptoms include:

  • Abnormal, sometimes waddling, walk
  • Joints that are fixed in a contracted position (late in the disease)
  • Large and muscular-looking calves (pseudohypertrophy), which are not actually strong
  • Loss of muscle mass, thinning of certain body parts
  • Low back pain
  • Palpitations or passing-out spells
  • Shoulder weakness
  • Weakness of the muscles in the face (later in the disease)
  • Weakness in the muscles of the lower legs, feet, lower arms, and hands (later in the disease)


Exams and Tests


Tests may include:

  • Blood creatine kinase levels
  • DNA testing
  • Echocardiogram or ECG
  • Electromyogram (EMG) testing
  • Muscle biopsy




There are no known treatments that reverse the muscle weakness. Gene therapy may become available in the future. Supportive treatment can decrease the complications of the disease.

The condition is managed based on the person’s symptoms. It includes:

  • Heart monitoring
  • Mobility aids
  • Physical therapy
  • Respiratory care
  • Weight control

Surgery is sometimes needed for any bone or joint problems.


Support Groups


The Muscular Dystrophy Association is an excellent resource (800-572-1717).


Outlook (Prognosis)


In general, people tend to have weakness that slowly gets worse in affected muscles and spreads.

The disease causes loss of movement. The person may be dependent on a wheelchair within 20 to 30 years.

Heart muscle weakness and abnormal electrical activity of the heart can increase the risk of palpitations, fainting, and sudden death. Most people with this group of diseases live into adulthood, but do not reach their full life expectancy.


Possible Complications


People with limb-girdle muscular dystrophies may experience complications such as:

  • Abnormal heart rhythms
  • Contractures of the joints
  • Difficulties with activities of daily living due to shoulder weakness
  • Progressive weakness, which may lead to needing a wheelchair


When to Contact a Medical Professional


Call your health care provider if you or your child feels weak while rising from a squatting position. Call a geneticist if you or a family member has been diagnosed with muscular dystrophy and you are planning a pregnancy.




Genetic counseling may help some couples and families learn about the risks and help with family planning.

Some of the complications can be prevented with appropriate treatment. For example, a cardiac pacemaker or defibrillator can greatly reduce the risk of sudden death due to an abnormal heart rhythm. Physical therapy may be able to prevent or delay contractures and improve quality of life.

Affected people may want to do DNA banking. DNA testing is recommended for those who are affected. This helps to identify the family gene mutation. Once the mutation is found, prenatal DNA testing, testing for carriers, and pre-implantation genetic diagnosis are possible.




Mohassel P, Bonnemann CG. Limb-girdle muscular dystrophies. In: Darras BT, Jones R, Ruan MM, DeVivo DC, eds.  Neuromuscular Disorders Of Infancy, Childhood, And Adolescence . 2nd ed. London, UK: Elsevier; 2015:chap 34.

Sarnat HB. Limb-girdle muscular dystrophies. In: Kliegman RM, Stanton BF, St Geme JW, Schor N, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics . 20th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 609.

  • Superficial anterior muscles - illustration

    Superficial muscles are close to the surface of the skin. Muscles which lie closer to bone or internal organs are called deep muscles.

    Superficial anterior muscles


    • Superficial anterior muscles - illustration

      Superficial muscles are close to the surface of the skin. Muscles which lie closer to bone or internal organs are called deep muscles.

      Superficial anterior muscles


    A Closer Look


      Self Care


        Tests for Limb-girdle muscular dystrophies



          Review Date: 10/27/2015

          Reviewed By: Chad Haldeman-Englert, MD, FACMG, Fullerton Genetics Center, Asheville, NC. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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