Deterioration of respiratory function in patients with neuromuscular disorders is primarily responsible for the high mortality associated with these diseases. A review of Duchenne muscular dystrophy and spinal muscular atrophy, the leading neuromuscular disorders affecting children, will be followed by a critical analysis of the various pathophysiological mechanisms underlying respiratory manifestations in these patients. Among such mechanisms, the role of muscular weakness in preservation of lung function, mucociliary clearance, gas exchange at rest and during exercise, and respiratory control during wakefulness and sleep will be examined in detail. In addition, the potential benefits of respiratory muscle training and of early diagnosis and clinical intervention will be delineated. This review underscores the importance of periodic assessment of pulmonary function during wakefulness and sleep in children affected by neuromuscular diseases as an essential component of multidisciplinary care aimed at improving long-term morbidity, survival, and quality of life.
Copyright 2000 Wiley-Liss, Inc.