Muscular Dystrophy and the Heart
Muscular dystrophies, such as Duchene’s or Becker’s, are hereditary disorders. They can affect
the heart. The main heart problem in muscular dystrophy (MD) is called dilated
cardiomyopathy. With this problem one or both ventricles (lower pumping chambers) of the
heart are enlarged and do not contract as they should. Patients with MD can also have heart
Signs and Symptoms
Trouble sleeping well.
Shortness of breath.
Less able to be active.
Nausea and vomiting.
Swelling in the legs or feet.
There are often no symptoms when the heart problems are starting. As a result, it is crucial to
see the cardiologist as your doctor orders.
An EKG and/or echocardiogram may be done to look closely at the heart muscle and its
function. A Holter monitor may also be worn to assess the heart rate and rhythm over a period of
A cardiac MRI may also be done to look more closely at the heart muscle and how it is working.
Treatment for cardiomyopathy is the same as the treatment for heart failure. This includes the
use of medicines. All of these help the heart muscle work better.
▪ ACE Inhibitors (ACE) (Enalapril) relax your arteries and veins. This reduces the work
of the heart. Side effects can include cough, feeling dizzy, loss of taste, swelling, skin
rash, and high potassium levels. A serious side effect is swelling in face, mouth, hands or
feet, or trouble swallowing or breathing. Seek medical help right away if this occurs.
▪ Angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARB’s) (Losartan) are used to relax and open up
your arteries. Side effects can include feeling dizzy, fatigue, and swelling.
▪ Beta Blockers (Propranolol, Atenolol, Carvedilol) block the effects of the chemicals in
your body that can make your heart work too hard. Side effects can include shortness of
breath, slow heartbeat, feeling tired or dizzy, and swelling. These drugs also help to
control abnormal heart rhythms.
▪ Digitalis (Digoxin, Lanoxin) is used to improve the strength and efficiency of the heart.
It controls the rate and rhythm of the heart beat. Side effects may include nausea and loss
of hunger, blurred vision, feeling confused, irregular heartbeat, and headache.
▪ Diuretics (water pill) help your body get rid of excess fluid and salt. This makes it easier
for your heart to pump. Side effects can include leg cramps, feeling dizzy, skin rash,
dehydration, weakness, and low potassium levels.
Your health care team may have given you this information as part of your care. If so, please use it and call if you
have any questions. If this information was not given to you as part of your care, please check with your doctor. This
is not medical advice. This is not to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. Because each
person’s health needs are different, you should talk with your doctor or others on your health care team when using
this information. If you have an emergency, please call 911. Copyright 5/2016. University of Wisconsin Hospitals and
Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing HF#6856