MYOTONIC DYSTROPHY AND FATIGUE
Summary of the lecture delivered by Professor Dr. A.R. Wintzen of the University of Leiden at the yearly meeting organised in October 1995 by the “Werkgroep Dystrophia Myotonica” for patients and other people involved in myotonic dystrophy
Complaints of fatigue are often heard and are not particularly related to muscular diseases; with many diseases fatigue is one of the symptoms. At the same time fatigue is a normal phenomenon with healthy people. Fatigue is mentioned with and without lack of sleep, with and without preceding “fatiguing” pursuits. Often “I am tired” means “I just don’t feel like it”. In daily life the word “tired” is used for a variety of situations with few correspondence.
How about fatigue with people suffering from myotonic dystrophy? This disease is attended with muscle-weakness and if this weakness is substantial many things such as walking get more fatiguing. Yet this is not the type of fatigue patients or their inmates do complain about. There are two different problems which probably are related.
The first problem is an increased need for sleep, which often manifests itself in long sleeping or in taking a nap in daytime. It is noteworthy that the patients themselves feel it as “normal” or “just necessary” while inmates consider it as “too much”.
The second problem is that many patients often think it is difficult to settle down to something. The description of this feeling resembles strongly the feeling of all people at the end of a busy day: the spirit is gone and to-morrow is another day. But patients with myotonic dystrophy often feel like it before anything is done. For the (healthy) partner this is difficult to understand and it often causes resentful reactions.
Is there a background-reason? Research proofed that the cause is situated in those parts of the brain that define the rhythm of sleeping and waking. It is likely that the personal rhythm with myotonic dystrophy is rather “flat”, few difference between the mountains and the valleys. This causes a situation in which, expressing it exaggerated, you are always able to sleep and never really feel energetic. Besides it seems difficult to make the personal rhythm correspond with the surrounding world
How to cope with these problems? Before proceeding: At this very moment there is no general remedy. Nevertheless there is more to tell about it.
An important starting-point in this is, that many patients discovered by themselves that a regular personal daily rhythm can be of great benefit. This means: getting up and going to bed at fixed times, irrespective of needs. This also applies to a holiday and the weekend. A “must” is found to be of help, for instance in case of a job or a fixed agreement. Some support can be found in medical treatment with a low dose of Efidrine, for instance once or twice a day 25 mg, in some cases a little bit more. With this dose there is no need for fearing subsidiary effects; but it can be helpful in suppressing the inconvenient drowsiness. It should not be taken late in the day because then is may hamper getting asleep. In the Netherlands this medicine no longer is registered; it is obtainable in the neat shape and in capsules.
Editors Note: In 2016 a new study done in Japan showed some promise of Erythromycin helping with muscles. This might help with fatigue as well. See this Link