Spinal Muscular Atrophy in Children

Spinal Muscular Atrophy in Children

Back muscular atrophy, or SMA, is an acquired condition that causes nerve cells in the lower part of the brain and spinal cord to break down and die. When this happens, the brain stops sending signals to the body’s muscles.

Babies with SMA can have difficulty crawling, walking, or even breathing, and older kids can have trouble getting around and mastering easy tasks of everyday life, like combing their hair.

Much research has been done to determine the genes that cause SMA, however currently, there’s still no cure for the disease. In spite of the constraints SMA causes, many kids who have it learn how to live as separately as possible with the aid of physical and occupational therapy and by getting treatment for the disease’s most troubling symptoms.

In the early 1980s, Werdnig and Hoffman explained a disorder of progressive muscular weakness start in infancy that led to early death, though the age of death varied. In pathologic terms, the disease was defined by loss of anterior horn cells. The central role of lower motor neuron degeneration was confirmed in subsequent pathologic studies showing a loss of anterior horn cells in the spine and cranial nerve nuclei.

About SMA

Typically, healthy nerve cells in the brain called motor nerve cells send messages to the body’s muscles to inform them when and how to move. But SMA damages these brain cells and avoids those crucial messages from reaching the muscles.

When the muscles do not get instructions on how to move, they end up being inactive, get smaller, and begin to waste away (a condition known as atrophy).

There are four types of SMA, classified by the disease’s seriousness and the age at which symptoms start:

  1. Type I, sometimes called Werdnig-Hoffmann disease, begins to affect infants from birth as much as 6 months of age, with most babies showing signs of the disease by 3 months. Some develop the disorder before birth. This is the most severe type of SMA.
  2. Type II, likewise called chronic infantile SMA, starts to impact children between 6 and 18 months old. This form can be moderate to more severe.
  3. Type III, also called Kugelberg-Welander disease or juvenile back muscular atrophy, starts to impact kids as early as 18 months of age or as late as adolescence. This is the mildest kind of SMA in children.
  4. Type IV is the adult kind of the condition. The majority of people affected by this type start having symptoms after age 35, and these symptoms gradually get worse with time. Because it establishes slowly, lots of people with type IV SMA do not know that they have it until years after symptoms begin.

A Hereditary Cause

SMA is normally inherited. This implies that both parents need to have a transformed (mutated) or missing copy of the gene associated with the disorder for a child to establish it.

The majority of cases of SMA are brought on by a shortage of an unique protein called SMN (” survival of motor neurons”). Motor neurons require this protein to operate. The gene that carries this protein is called SMN1. When each parent passes onto their child a chromosome with an altered or missing out on SMN1 gene, the protein is not produced and motor neurons pass away, leading to SMA.

If a child receives the altered SMN1 gene from just one parent, the child will be an SMA provider. That means the child most likely will not reveal any signs of having SMA, but later on, might pass it on to his/her own child. If two SMA carriers have a child, there is a 1 in 4 chance that their child will have SMA. Being an SMA carrier is fairly typical: About 1 in every 40 people carries the gene.

Spinal Muscular Atrophy in Children

Signs & Symptoms

How SMA affects a child depends upon when the condition first causes symptoms. Generally, the later on that symptoms first appear, the less severe a child’s impairments will be. Depending upon the seriousness of the condition, long-term effects can be incapacitating and even life threatening.

Many babies born with SMA have a tongue that quivers (called fasciculations). This symptom is particular of SMA and can lead to an early diagnosis. Nevertheless, not all babies establish it, and the issues they do establish likewise can be triggered by other diseases. This can make it hard to identify whether SMA is accountable.

When SMA develops early, it can cause children to miss certain developmental turning points, such as rolling over, sitting up without support, and walking. One symptom of SMA that might not be as apparent is the muscle thinning that takes place due to the fact that they aren’t being used (this is the atrophy part of the condition).

The problems associated with SMA continue to become worse as a child grows older. Progressive weak point can cause a child to start to fall more often than other kids or to have difficulty lifting or bring items that he or she might previously bring with ease.

When the back muscles that typically support the spinal column become weak, children with SMA develop spine deformities, such as scoliosis (sideways curvature of the spinal column) and kyphosis (front-to-back curvature of the spinal column, commonly known as a humpback). Over time, SMA continues to cause the body to waste away, leaving some children completely not able to walk, stand, and even move.

SMA sometimes affects the muscles used for breathing. This problem, along with an absence of mobility, puts children with SMA at risk for establishing severe breathing infections. These can be hard to treat and can occur over and over once again.

Not all parts of the body are impacted by SMA, however. Even kids with severe types of the disease still have experiences in their face, arms, and legs. Intelligence is unaffected, and lots of children with SMA have the tendency to be abnormally alert, interactive, and gifted when it comes to making good friends and mingling.

Medical diagnosis

Doctors do not generally test babies for SMA. In truth, unless the parents know they are SMA providers or a baby shows significant muscle weakness or has difficulty breathing or feeding instantly after birth, SMA might not be spotted right away.

Rather, a doctor may recognize that a child has SMA only after the child misses particular developmental turning points, such as having the ability to support his or her head or stand without assistance. In most cases, progressive muscle weakness and atrophy, adult issues, and repeated doctor check outs since of respiratory issues trigger more examination that reveals SMA as the reason for a child’s difficulties.

A diagnosis generally comes just after the child goes through several tests that dismiss other diseases that cause comparable symptoms. These tests normally consist of:

  • nerve conduction tests, such as an electromyogram (EMG)
  • computed tomography (CT) scan
  • magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • muscle tissue biopsy

To validate an SMA medical diagnosis, the doctor will normally advise a blood test to take a look at the child’s genes. If the SMN1 gene is missing or imperfect, it will verify the medical diagnosis of SMA. The doctor might also advise that parents and other members be evaluated for the condition, even if they’ve never had any symptoms.


Sadly, there is no cure for SMA. The treatment that children receive for SMA differs, depending upon their age and the severity of symptoms. The goal of treatment is to ease particular symptoms, preserve function and boost a child’s movement for as long as possible, and optimize the child’s self-reliance and quality of life.

Children with SMA generally need continuous care throughout their lives from various types of physicians, consisting of pulmonologists, neurologists, orthopedists and orthopedic cosmetic surgeons, gastroenterologists, nutritional experts, and physical and physical therapists.

Therapy and support groups can help children, parents, and member of the family cope with the destructive aspects of SMA and the continuous treatment required. In addition, parents may wish to consider genetic counseling, particularly if they prepare to have more children.

Respiratory Support

Children with SMA frequently require assistance breathing when muscle weak point starts to affect the respiratory muscles. Different therapies can assist a child breathe. Children who are less severely impacted might just need to breathe through a mask or mouth piece. Others may be linked to a breathing maker (called a negative-pressure ventilation system), which assists the lungs broaden and contract. Air gets into the lungs through a tube put into the windpipe (tracheostomy).

A vital factor in breathing care is preventing infection, specifically pneumonia. Pneumonia is common in children with SMA and is life threatening.

Nutritional Support

SMA can affect the muscles used for chewing, drawing, and swallowing. This can cause a child to end up being malnourished or establish pneumonia if the child breathes in food or liquids while eating. Some children do better by consuming small, frequent meals throughout the day rather of having three big meals.

Some children with SMA are at risk for weight problems if they consume a lot of calories for their activity levels and they can’t exercise to successfully burn the calories. Continuous consultation with a nutritional expert is necessary to guarantee sufficient nutrition that doesn’t overload a child with unnecessary calories.

Children who cannot swallow or draw must be fed in another method to guarantee that they’re receiving enough nutrition. In some cases, they have a tube placed into the stomach to assist them eat. Through this tube, called a gastrostomy tube, they can receive a nutritionally sound liquid diet.

Function and Mobility

Many children with SMA benefit considerably from physical and occupational therapies, which help to preserve function and movement and enhance lifestyle for as long as possible.

During physical therapy, kids engage in exercises that assist to secure the joints from stiffness and injury. Physical therapy likewise assists to keep the muscles strong, preserve flexibility, enhance the blood circulation of blood in the limbs, and eliminate pain that’s connected with muscle weakness and immobility. Exercises are likewise performed to enhance the breathing muscles that help in breathing.

In occupational therapy, children do exercises that can help them carry out typical everyday activities, such as walking, dressing themselves, combing their hair, and brushing their teeth as separately as possible. In many cases, tools can help make these jobs easier, such as:

  • leg braces, standing frames, walking canes, and walkers, which offer stability and improve movement
  • electrical wheelchairs with personalized controls
  • specialized seats to use in school
  • tools for using computer systems and phones and controlling other home electronics, such as the TVs and
  • lights
  • tools to help educational activities, such as composing and drawing

The goal of physical and occupational therapy is to assist kids with SMA– and their parents– discover methods to live as generally as possible despite the constraints brought on by the disease.

Spine Deformity

Children who establish back defects have to wear a splint, brace, or bodice to correct their backs as toddlers or teenagers. In some cases, surgery (called a spine combination) is done to remedy the back defect in children who are done growing and whose breathing systems can tolerate sedation with anesthesia.


Scientists who are looking into SMA have actually made dramatic advancements in the past couple of years, consisting of recognizing the genes and the protein related to the condition.

Research is now concentrated on finding drugs and other treatments that can help to keep motor neurons working as long as possible, enhance muscle tone and function, and even modify gene function. Many researchers are optimistic that ongoing research will lead to much better treatment of SMA.

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