When your child is diagnosed with FSHD
Early-onset FSHD (also called infantile FSHD) is a less prevalent form of FSHD characterized by facial weakness appearing before the age of 5 and/or scapulohumeral (shoulder and arm) weakness before age 10. About 5-10 percent of FSHD is early-onset, so its prevalence is around 1 in 200,000 out of the general population.
Compared to people with “classical” FSHD, whose major symptoms start to manifest in adolescence and adulthood, individuals with early-onset FSHD seem to progress more rapidly. While classical FSHD typically progresses slowly, with around 20-25 percent of those over age 50 needing a wheelchair, people with early-onset FSHD may need a mobility device sooner, by their 20s or 30s, and a few require a wheelchair in their first decade. Children with early-onset FSHD also face a higher risk of complications involving vision and hearing. These are treatable if caught early.
This is difficult news for any parent to hear, but we want you to know that children diagnosed with early-onset FSHD can thrive and succeed in school and careers. It helps to plan, know how to get the resources you need, and have support from family and community. Our Early Onset chapter, led by parents of early-onset individuals, is where you can learn invaluable information and feel supported.
Understanding what you’re dealing with will help your child. You’ll have better outcomes if you are pro-active rather than reactive. This means knowing how symptoms might progress, receiving necessary tests and physical and occupational therapies, and being ready to deal with the potential physical challenges and changes that lie ahead.
Because 90 to 95 percent of FSHD has a later age of onset, early-onset FSHD has not been studied as extensively. Unfortunately, this means drug companies lack good data for designing clinical trial for early-onset individuals. The good news is that both early-onset and “classical” FSHD share the same genetic basis, so treatments developed for the more common form of FSHD are expected to work for early-onset as well. We empathize deeply with parents who want their children to have access to experimental, if unproven, treatments in clinical trials. We believe the best strategy to get effective treatments to early-onset patients is to support ongoing clinical trials for adults with FSHD. This is a faster, lower-risk approach to getting treatments approved by the FDA. The FSHD Society will advocate vigorously for early-onset patients to have access to approved treatment as quickly as possible.
Our recent FSHD University webinar with Dr. Tina Duong provides an overview the current scientific understanding of FSHD and some thoughts about clinical trials readiness for the early-onset community.
The online database Online Mendelian Inheritance in Man (OMIM), developed and maintained by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), is an excellent source for information on the science and medicine of early-onset facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy.
You can also read more about Early-onset FSHD research below.
O. Brouwer et al. in the Netherlands defined early-onset FSHD (IFSHD) as follows:
- Signs or symptoms of facial weakness before age five.
- Signs or symptoms of shoulder girdle weakness before age 10.
They showed the same broad range of clinical signs and symptoms as can be seen normally in FSHD. In 7 patients Southern blotting with p13E-11 was performed which showed an abnormal EcoRI fragment (13-22 kb) in 6 of them. “We conclude that early onset FSHD does not differ from regular FSHD clinically or genetically,” the authors write. “However, the precise mechanisms involved in the extensive clinical variability of the disease are still unknown.”
Jardine et al. in the United Kingdom reported that patients with de novo 4q35 deletions tend to have larger deletions than familial cases, and also to have more severe disease. The mean age at onset of this population was 6.8 years, 30 percent used a wheelchair before 18 years of age, and three had congenital facial diplegia and sensorineural deafness. This age at wheelchair use contrasts sharply with the overall statistics reporting that 20 percent of FSHD patients require a wheelchair by age 50.
Arahata et al. in Japan analyzed the data from 78 independent families with 4q35 FSHD. They found that 16-17 percent of the patients had early-onset disease. Approximately one-half of these had EcoRI fragments of less than 11 kb, the smallest fragments. All of the patients with these smallest fragments had early-onset disease. In Japan, 50 percent of the small fragment group of patients also had epilepsy, and almost 90 percent had mental retardation.
Korf et al. reported six patients with facial diplegia occurring in the first year. All had severe progressive disability prior to adolescence. In Deymeer’s Neuromuscular Diseases from Basic Mechanism to Clinical Management, Lunt writes in his chapter “Facioscapulohumeral Muscular Dystrophy Diagnostic and Molecular Aspects” that “In more severe infantile onset cases, facial weakness is the earliest and most prominent sign. Thus, the infant may show little or no facial expression, appearing unable to smile, and may be initially misdiagnosed as having Mobius syndrome. Pelvic girdle weakness in the most severe cases can be prominent by age 10 years, leading to consideration of Xp2l or limb girdle types of muscular dystrophy, but unlike these conditions, FSHD is still characterized by an even greater degree of shoulder girdle weakness rather than pelvic weakness.
FSHD is inevitably progressive, and an overall 20 percent of patients require a wheelchair by the fifth decade, although this can be required before age 20 years in many of the most severe new mutation cases.” This might suggest that very early-onset FSHD patients are more likely to have de novo mutations and that the clinical manifestations may include congenital facial diplegia, congenital deafness, mental retardation, or seizures. These patients are likely to require wheelchairs in childhood.
Some new ideas, definitions, and criteria being put forth by researchers working on IFSHD are:
- Clinically severe FSHD; patients who report needing a wheelchair greater than 50 percent of the time by age 18 years; and
- Those predicted to have severe FSHD; those patients with EcoRI fragments smaller than 15 kb. This is a conservative value and is expected to identify patients with a milder phenotype in addition to the more severe. This corresponds to roughly three or fewer residual 3.3 kb repeats.