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McArdle disease is a rare muscle disorder. In this disease, the muscle cells can’t break down a complex sugar called glycogen. It is part of a group of diseases called glycogen storage diseases. Another name for McArdle disease is glycogen storage disease GSD 5 or GSD V.
Your cells use a simple sugar, called glucose, for energy. When you eat, your digestive system sends a large amount of glucose into your blood. This increases your blood glucose levels. Your body removes this extra glucose from the blood to stabilize the blood glucose level. Your body then converts the extra glucose into glycogen and stores it in the liver, muscles, and other places in the body. Glycogen is a form of energy storage.
When you haven’t eaten in a while, the glucose level in your blood starts to drop. This tells your body to start using some of the glycogen it saved up earlier. The glycogen gets broken down into the glucose so that your body has a steady supply.
Your muscles need a constant supply of glucose to keep working well. In McArdle disease, your muscles can’t break down the saved up glycogen because an important substance needed for that process is missing from your muscle cells. This means your muscles can’t use the stored glycogen to get the glucose they need. The key missing substance in your muscles is an enzyme called myophosphorylase. An enzyme is a substance that helps speed up chemical reactions in the body.
This may make it difficult for you to exercise without becoming tired and having muscle pain. Most of the time, symptoms of this condition appear by the time a person is age 15.
McArdle disease is a genetic disease. It results from mutations in the gene for the enzyme muscle phosphorylase. Your muscle cells can’t properly make this enzyme and therefore can’t break down glycogen into glucose. Your muscles need glucose to do work optimally.
The mutation that causes McArdle disease usually passes down from a parent to a child. You generally have a pair of genes (one from each parent) for each substance your body makes. In most cases, a person with McArdle disease needs to have two copies of a mutated gene. This is recessive inheritance.
A person who has only one copy of the mutated gene may still have some symptoms of McArdle disease.
McArdle disease causes muscle symptoms. Generally, it can make it difficult for you to exercise without becoming tired. You may find that this does not happen with gentle walking, but you may have trouble with strenuous exercise for more than a few minutes. You may notice that after a brief rest you feel a “second wind” that lets you exercise again. These symptoms can vary in intensity. Some common symptoms of McArdle disease include:
Most of the time, people notice these symptoms before age 15 year. Often, people assume the symptoms are “growing pains” or due to some other cause. Different people may have symptoms of different severity. You may even notice that the symptoms seem worse or better at different times.
Doctors first take a medical history, ask about your recent symptoms, past medical conditions, and your family medical history. A doctor usually does a thorough physical exam, including tests of your muscle strength. Doctors may test your endurance or ability for sustained exercise. Some diagnostic tests include:
You may first see your main healthcare provider who may then refer you to a specialist, such as a neurologist. While the symptoms often appear in childhood, McArdle disease is rare. Some people with the condition do not receive the diagnosis until later in adulthood.
There is no cure for McArdle disease. But you may be able to use certain diet and exercise strategies to help control the problem. A well-designed low or moderate exercise routine may help your body get the most out of your ability to use glucose. It is very important to work with your healthcare provider to create this plan, though. Overdoing exercise can harm the muscles and kidneys in people with McArdle disease. You can work with your medical team to create the best care plan for your situation. Some therapies used to help manage McArdle disease are:
People with McArdle disease need to work with their medical teams to establish a safe exercise plan. For additional information and support, you may also want to talk to the team about genetic counseling.
McArdle disease (GSD 5) is a rare, genetic muscle disorder. It is a type of glycogen storage disease. It results from a lack of a key substance that the muscles need to break down glycogen into glucose for energy.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:
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