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Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD) is the most common muscle disease in children. Historically, DMD results in loss of ambulation between ages 7 and 13 years and death in the teens or 20s. In order to determine whether survival has improved over the decades and whether the impact of nocturnal ventilation combined with a better management of cardiac involvement has been able to modify the pattern of survival, we reviewed the notes of 835 DMD patients followed at the Naples Centre of Cardiomyology and Medical Genetics from 1961 to 2006. Patients were divided, by decade of birth, into 3 groups: 1) DMD born between 1961 and 1970; 2) DMD born between 1971 and 1980; 3) DMD born between 1981 and 1990; each group was in turn subdivided into 15 two-year classes, from 14 to 40 years of age. Age and causes of death, type of cardiac treatment and use of a mechanical ventilator were carefully analyzed.
The percentage of survivors in the different decades was statistically compared by chi-square test and Kaplan-Meier survival curves analyses. A significant decade on decade improvement in survival rate was observed at both the age of 20, where it passed from 23.3% of patients in group 1 to 54% of patients in group 2 and to 59,8% in patients in group 3 (p < 0.001) and at the age of 25 where the survival rate passed from 13.5% of patients in group 1 to 31.6% of patients in group 2 and to 49.2% in patients in group 3 (p < 0.001).
The causes of death were both cardiac and respiratory, with a prevalence of the respiratory ones till 1980s. The overall mean age for cardiac deaths was 19.6 years (range 13.4-27.5), with an increasing age in the last 15 years. The overall mean age for respiratory deaths was 17.7 years (range 11.6-27.5) in patients without a ventilator support while increased to 27.9 years (range 23-38.6) in patients who could benefit of mechanical ventilation.
This report documents that DMD should be now considered an adulthood disease as well, and as a consequence more public health interventions are needed to support these patients and their families as they pass from childhood into adult age.