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Difference between atrophy and dystrophy

Atrophy vs dystrophy

What are atrophy and dystrophy?

Atrophy and dystrophy are both terms related to muscular functioning. Muscular atrophy is wasting of muscles due to loss of tissue while muscular dystrophy is a group of muscle diseases that have weakness in the muscles and leads to reduced mobility. Muscular dystrophy causes debility and the person becomes progressively disabled as they lose the power of movement.

Difference between causes

Muscular atrophy is seen as the result of ageing or diseases like polio, severe malnutrition, Guillain Barre Syndrome, burns and neuropathic atrophy. Muscular dystrophy is seen as hereditary inheritance and usually has a genetic mutation at its root. Many are produced as a result of sudden mutational changes following radiation. Muscular atrophy is of two types. One consists of disuse atrophy wherein there is atrophy seen post prolonged lack of use of a particular muscle or group of muscles. It occurs mostly in bedridden patients, people with sedentary lifestyle, comatose, stroke patients, fractures and malnutrition. The other variety is neurogenic atrophy, occurring post injury to the nerve supplying a set of muscles. The atrophy is seen in that group of muscles.

Difference between presentations

Symptoms of atrophy are that the muscles may become hypotonic (i.e. lose tone and tightnes), there is flabbiness of muscles, weakness, loss of power and strength in muscles and tremendous amount of loss of tissue which is the hallmark of atrophy. In muscular dystrophy, there is a gradual and progressive muscle wasting, poor strength in muscles leading to decreased movements, inability to walk, altered gait, repeated falls and injuries, difficulty in initiating a movement as the muscles lack power, hypertrophied calf muscles and limited range of movement of joints too. Eventually there are joint contractures as the person becomes totally immobile. Examples of muscular dystrophy are Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, Becker Muscular Dystrophy, etc. Finally, with age, there are respiratory and cardiac complications arising as a result of weakness of muscle of respiration and the heart. These are mostly fatal.

Difference in treatment

Atrophy can be avoided by regular exercises and continuous usage of all sets of muscles. Improving nutrition and lifestyle modifications will eventually result in reversal of the muscular atrophy in people who have acquired it due to stroke, burns, fractures, etc. Dystrophy is genetic and hence, cannot be reversed. There is also very little treatment available for muscular dystrophy other than pain relief in case of muscle pain. Physiotherapy and occupational therapy will help keep patient away from contractures. Certain corrective surgeries and use of orthopedic devices like braces for improving the motility by means of support are helpful. The only medications useful in muscular dystrophies are steroids as they are end stage diseases with no real cure. The treatment of atrophy is with regular exercises under the guidance of the doctor. It is generally recommended to perform exercises under water so that there is lesser resistance and load on the weak muscles. Later a nutritionist’s opinion is extremely helpful and both of them should be followed well.

Prognosis for muscular atrophy is good as person is otherwise normal and except one group of muscles can use the rest of the muscles well, whereas in dystrophy the prognosis is bad as the patient keeps deteriorating and eventually becomes immobile.

Summary: Muscular atrophy is a mild ailment as compared to muscular dystrophy which is more life threatening. While atrophy is degeneration of a muscle or loss of mass, dystrophy is severe weakness due to lack of muscle proteins, despite visibly enlarged muscles. Complications of muscular dystrophy can be respiratory arrest or cardiac arrest as there is intense weakness of muscles and a lot of care must be taken to avoid such complications.


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1 Comment

  1. What about Spinal Muscular Atrophy? (SMA). It is genetic and life threatening and type 1 causes death in infants before the age of 2. So I don’t see how that is a mild ailment and it is very similar to everyhing written about muscular dystrophy.

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