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Spinal Muscular Atrophy

Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA)

Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is a genetic disease affecting the part of the nervous system that controls voluntary muscle movement. Most of the nerve cells that control muscles are located in the spinal cord, which accounts for the word spinal in the name of the disease. SMA is muscular because its primary effect is on muscles, which don’t receive signals from these nerve cells. Atrophy is the medical term for getting smaller, which is what generally happens to muscles when they’re not active.SMA involves the loss of nerve cells called motor neurons in the spinal cord and is classified as a motor neuron disease. SMA symptoms cover a broad spectrum ranging from mild to severe. The primary symptom of chromosome 5-related (SMN-related) SMA is weakness of the voluntary muscles.

The muscles most affected are those closest to the centre of the body, such as those of the shoulders, hips, thighs and upper back. Special complications occur if the muscles used for breathing and swallowing are affected, resulting in abnormalities in these functions. If the muscles of the back weaken, spinal curvatures can develop. The most severe manifestation on the SMA spectrum can be noticeable to mothers late in their pregnancy by reduced or absent fetal movements. Symptoms are critical (including respiratory distress and poor feeding) which usually result in death within weeks. In comparison to the mildest phenotype of SMA (adult-onset), where muscle weakness may present after decades and progress to the use of a wheelchair but life expectancy is unchanged.

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