Symptoms of Spinal Muscular Atrophy

Overview

Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is an inherited neurodegenerative disorder that affects lower motor neurons. Lower motor neurons are nerve cells that control voluntary muscle movements and are involved in walking, speaking, swallowing, and breathing.

The most common symptoms in most types of SMA are muscle weakness and decreased gross motor skills, impaired mobility, breathing problems, problems swallowing, and scoliosis (curvature of the spine). However, age of onset and severity of the symptoms vary among the different types of SMA.

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Breathing Difficulties

The breathing, sucking, and swallowing difficulties that arise in people with SMA are related to weakness in the intercostal muscles, leaving the diaphragm as the primarily breathing muscle. This weakness creates a serious health danger, because people with SMA often develop respiratory complications, which can be due to lung underdevelopment and weak cough, respiratory tract infections, the aspiration of food and fluids, and sleep problems with hypoventilation.

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Nutrition

Good nutrition is important for everyone’s good health, but in children with SMA, poor nutrition and an inadequate diet can further weaken muscles essential to breathing and the immune system. A balanced diet is believed to benefit patients by promoting better breathing, a stronger immune system, and improved growth and motor function, all of which contributes to an overall better quality of life.

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Visit the SMA News Today forums to connect with others in the SMA community. These forums are designed for patients, caregivers, and medical professionals to discuss issues, ask questions, and share experiences.

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