Managing SMA: Swallowing and Sucking Muscle Weakness

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by Wendy Henderson |

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As the muscles in the mouth and throat become weaker in babies and children with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) it leads to issues with swallowing and sucking. If a child experiences sucking problems, they may have issues with poor nutrition and dehydration. Problems with swallowing can be dangerous as the airways could become obstructed with food or drink and there is a risk of respiratory infections from food or liquid that has been inhaled (aspiration).

MORE: Five areas that need to be carefully managed in SMA patients

According to the Muscular Dystrophy Association, if a child with SMA presents severe problems with sucking and swallowing, they’ll need to be tubed using a gastrostomy tube (G-tube). A flexible tube is used to feed liquid nutrition directly into the infant’s stomach. Some children who have a G-tube can still eat and drink by mouth, but due to the weakness of muscles needed to chew and swallow, it can often be a long process to finish a meal or snack. However, participating can help children feel included in family meals.

If you child has swallowing or sucking problems they will need to see a speech-language pathologist who can assist by coming up with exercises that can help strengthen the mouth and throat muscles.

MORE: Seven support care areas that can help with SMA.

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