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A dystrophy is an alteration in the vital processes resulting in disproportionate growth and functional activity of the various parts of the body. Correct growth and development and the mamtenance of the balance between the different parts of the body during adult life depend very largely on the secretions which are poured into the blood stream by the ductless glands.
Thyroid deficiency before birth leads to cretinism (q.v.), and in adult life causes myxoedema (q.v.).
Deficiency of the pituitary secretion gives rise to a disorder varying according to the part or parts of the gland affected. There is one form in which there is extreme obesity, dwarfism, slow mentality and under-development of the sexual organs. In another the individual is small and slender, with tapering fingers and imperfect genital development. Insufficient secretion of the interstitial cells of the testicle, the so-called puberty gland, lcads to eunuchoidism.
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These dystrophies may be caused by infection or injury to the gland, or they may be congenital.
Achondroplasia, one of the forms of dwarfism, is due to a deficiency of pituitary secretion during embryonic life. There is an error of growth in the cartilage at the base of the skull and at the ends of the long bones, so that an achondroplasiac has a depressed bridge to the nose and very short limbs, with short, broad hands and feet. The limbs are so diminutive as to make the head and body look much too big. Some achondroplasiacs were celebrated dwarfs at the courts of mediaeval kings. Now and then two or more are met with in one family, as brothers and sisters or parent and child.
Many other abnormalities are thought to be due to some disturbance between the interrelation of the internal secretory glands. The muscular dystrophies are believed by some to fall into this category, but the evidence in favour of it is very slight. The commonest is the pseudo-hypertrophic form, in which some groups of muscles atrophy and others enlarge, particularly those of the buttocks and calves. These diseases may be recognizable at birth or may not develop until puberty or later. Occasionally they become arrested, but as a rule they lead to an early death.