14 September 2010

Lifespan of Muscular Dystrophy Patients Differs by Race: Study

Why whites with MD live longer than blacks still a mystery, researchers say

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MONDAY, Sept. 13 (HealthDay News) -- White Americans with muscular dystrophy live longer than blacks with the disease, but the reason why remains unclear, says a new study.

Death at an early age from respiratory or heart failure is common among people with muscular dystrophy, a group of inherited diseases that weaken muscles.

In this study, researchers looked at 18,315 muscular dystrophy patients who died between 1986 and 2005, a period marked by advances in the care of people with muscular dystrophy.

During that time, the average age at death increased by 1.09 years annually for white men, compared to 0.25 years for black men. Among men who had no muscular dystrophy-related weakening of the heart (cardiomyopathy), the average age at death increased by 1.3 years annually for white men, compared to 0.3 years for black men.

The study also found that white women with muscular dystrophy live an average of 12 years longer than black women with the disease.

The findings appear in the Sept. 14 issue of the journal Neurology.

"More research is needed to determine the causes of this difference between whites and African-Americans with muscular dystrophy so it can be addressed," study author Aileen Kenneson, who conducted the research while at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in a journal news release.

"Possible contributing factors could be differences in the types of muscular dystrophy, environmental or genetic factors, other health conditions such as high blood pressure, individual social and economic factors or access to and use of treatment options," she said.

In an accompanying editorial, Dr. Nicte Mejia of Massachusetts General Hospital offered another opinion. "Inequities in the health care delivery system and the multiple ways in which race constrains access to care seem the most likely explanation for this racial disparity," Mejia wrote. "Decades of research show that African-American patients have worse access to health care and inferior outcomes than white patients. This study reminds us that we must work to minimize social barriers and provide excellent care to all patients."

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has more about muscular dystrophy.

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