A new study shows that white men and boys are living longer with muscular dystrophy due to technological advances in recent years, but that the lives of African-American men and boys with muscular dystrophy have not been extended at the same rate. The research will be published in the September 14, 2010, issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.
Muscular dystrophy is a group of inherited muscle diseases that often lead to early death due to respiratory or heart failure.
"More research is needed to determine the causes of this difference between whites and African-Americans with muscular dystrophy so it can be addressed," said study author Aileen Kenneson, PhD, who conducted the study while with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "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."
The study also found that white women with muscular dystrophy live an average of 12 years longer than African-American women with the disease.
For the study, researchers analyzed death records from 18,315 people whose death was associated with muscular dystrophy in the United States from 1986 through 2005. This period of time was when use of supportive medications and many advances in respiratory and heart care were developed and applied to those with muscular dystrophy.
The average age at death increased by 1.09 years annually for white men, compared to 0.25 for African-American men. Among men who had no weakening of the heart associated with muscular dystrophy, called cardiomyopathy, the average age at death increased by 1.3 years annually for white men, compared to 0.3 years annually for African-American men.
Nicte Mejia, MD, of Massachusetts General Hospital and a member of the American Academy of Neurology, who wrote an editorial accompanying the article, said, "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. 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."
- Aileen Kenneson, Ajay Vatave, and Richard Finkel. Widening gap in age at muscular dystrophy–associated death between blacks and whites, 1986–2005. Neurology, 2010; 75: 982-989
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