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Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center (GARD)

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Duchenne muscular dystrophy

Other Names for this Disease
  • DMD
  • Muscular dystrophy, Duchenne
  • Muscular dystrophy, pseudohypertrophic progressive, Duchenne type
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Your Question

Several members of my husband's family are carriers of Duchenne and Becker muscular dystrophy. My husband does not have the disease. What are the chances of passing on this condition to any children we may have?

Our Answer

We have identified the following information that we hope you find helpful. If you still have questions, please contact us.

What is Becker muscular dystrophy?

Becker muscular dystrophy (BMD) is an inherited condition that primarily affects males and causes progressive weakness and wasting of the skeletal and cardiac (heart) muscles.[1][2] The age of onset and rate of progression can vary among affected people. Muscle weakness usually becomes apparent between the ages of 5 and 15. In some cases, heart involvement (cardiomyopathy) is the first sign.[2] BMD is caused by a mutation in the DMD gene and is inherited in an X-linked recessive manner. BMD is very similar to Duchenne muscular dystrophy, except that symptoms begin later and progress at a slower rate.[1] There is no cure for this condition, and treatment aims to relieve symptoms to help quality of life.[3] People with BMD may survive into their 40s or beyond.[1]
Last updated: 3/5/2014

How do people inherit Duchenne and Becker muscular dystrophy?

Duchenne and Becker muscular dystrophy are inherited in an X-linked recessive pattern. A condition is considered X-linked if the mutated gene that causes the disorder is located on the X chromosome, one of the two sex chromosomes. In males (who have only one X chromosome), one altered copy of the gene in each cell is sufficient to cause the condition. In females (who have two X chromosomes), a mutation must be present in both copies of the gene to cause the disorder. Males are affected by X-linked recessive disorders much more frequently than females. A striking characteristic of X-linked inheritance is that fathers cannot pass X-linked traits to their sons.[4]

In about two thirds of cases, an affected male inherits the mutation from a mother who carries an altered copy of the DMD gene. The other one third of cases probably result from new mutations in the gene.[4]

In X-linked recessive inheritance, a female with one mutated copy of the gene in each cell is called a carrier. She can pass on the altered gene, but usually does not experience signs and symptoms of the disorder. Occasionally, however, females who carry a DMD mutation may have muscle weakness and cramping. These symptoms are typically milder than the severe muscle weakness and atrophy seen in affected males. Females who carry a DMD mutation also have an increased risk of developing heart abnormalities including dilated cardiomyopathy.[4]

Last updated: 10/26/2009

If Duchenne and Becker muscular dystrophy run in my husband's family, what are the chances that our children will have the condition?

When a genetic disorder is diagnosed in a family, family members often want to know the likelihood that they or their children will develop the condition. This can be difficult to predict in some cases because many factors influence a person’s chances of developing a genetic condition. One important factor is how the condition is inherited.[5]

Duchenne and Becker muscular dystrophy are inherited in an X-linked recessive manner. Because of the difference in sex chromosomes, the probability of passing on an X-linked recessive disorder also differs between men and women. The sons of a man with an X-linked recessive disorder will not be affected, and his daughters will carry one copy of the mutated gene (illustration). With each pregnancy, a woman who carries an X-linked recessive disorder has a 50 percent chance of having sons who are affected and a 50 percent chance of having daughters who carry one copy of the mutated gene (illustration).[5] 

Although the chances of inheriting a genetic condition appear straightforward, factors such as a person’s family history and the results of genetic testing can sometimes modify those chances. In addition, some people with a disease-causing mutation never develop any health problems or may experience only mild symptoms of the disorder. Estimating the chance of developing or passing on a genetic disorder can be complex. Genetics professionals can help people understand these chances and help them make informed decisions about their health.[5]
Last updated: 10/26/2009

How can I find a genetics professional in my area?

Genetics clinics are a source of information for individuals and families regarding genetic conditions, treatment, inheritance, and genetic risks to other family members. More information about genetic consultations is available from Genetics Home Reference. To find a genetics clinic, we recommend that you contact your primary healthcare provider for a referral.

The following online resources can help you find a genetics professional in your community:

Last updated: 6/22/2012