What are the signs and symptoms of Duchenne muscular dystrophy?

Most often the first noticeable signs of Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) are that a child does not reach developmental milestones when expected. These milestones include lifting their head, sitting, walking and talking.

Most of the time, a delay in development is nothing to worry about. Every child develops differently, and there is a wide range of what is considered to be ‘normal’. However, in the rare situation that there is a problem, finding it early can ensure your child gets the help they need to reach their full potential.1–3

When to suspect DMD

If your child is not walking well by 18 months, or cannot get up from the floor to stand, it may be a sign of a muscle problem.2,4,5

Other signs you may notice include:2,3,5,6

  • Weak muscles
  • A delay in learning to speak
  • Behavioural issues
  • Getting tired easily
  • Developing at a slower pace than their brothers or sisters
  • Not being able to keep up with other children their age

Use this checklist to help identify developmental concerns early, so you can get the help and support you need. 

Some of the common signs of DMD are not always easy to identify. Watch the video below to see what these symptoms may look like in day-to-day life, and why recognising them as early as possible is so important.

If you suspect that your child or young person has a developmental delay or signs of DMD, it is important to speak to your family doctor as soon as possible.2 Download the Doctor’s appointment discussion guide to help prepare for your visit with the doctor

1. van Ruiten HJ, et al. Arch Dis Child. 2014;99:1074–1077.
2. Birnkrant DJ, et al. Lancet Neurol. 2018;17:251–267 [Part 1].
3. Lurio JG, et al. Am Fam Physician. 2015;91:38–44.
4. World Health Organization. Six gross motor milestones. Available at https://www.who.int/childgrowth/standards/mm_windows_table.pdf [last accessed March 2021].
5. National Task Force for Early Identification of Childhood Neuromuscular Disorders. Guide for primary care providers. Available at https://childmuscleweakness.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/PrimaryCareProviderPacket.pdf [last accessed March 2021].
6. Aartsma-Rus A, et al. J Pediatr. 2019;204:305–313.e14.
7. Noritz GH, et al. Pediatrics. 2013; 131:e2016–e2027.
8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Developmental milestones. Available at https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/actearly/pdf/checklists/all_checklists.pdf [last accessed March 2021].
9. van Dommelen P, et al. Dev Med Child Neurol. 2020;62(10):1198–1204.
10. Ciafaloni E, et al. J Pediatr. 2009;155:380–385.
11. Parsons EP, et al. Eur J Paediatr Neurol. 2004;8:145–153.


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