Anesthesia and spinal muscle atrophy

Paediatr Anaesth. 2013 Sep;23(9):804-16. doi: 10.1111/pan.12159. Epub 2013 Apr 19.


Spinal muscle atrophy (SMA) is autosomal recessive and one of the most common inherited lethal diseases in childhood. The spectrum of symptoms of SMA is continuous and varies from neonatal death to progressive symmetrical muscle weakness first appearing in adulthood. The disease is produced by degeneration of spinal motor neurons and can be described in three or more categories: SMA I with onset of symptoms before 6 months of age; SMAII with onset between 6 and 18 months and SMA III, which presents later in childhood. Genetics: The disease is in more than 95% of cases caused by a homozygous deletion in survival motor neuron gene 1 (SMN1).

Pathophysiology: The loss of full-length functioning SMN protein leads to a degeneration of anterior spinal motor neurons which causes muscle weakness. Anesthetic risks: Airway: Tracheal intubation can be difficult. Respiration: Infants with SMA I almost always need postoperative respiratory support. Patients with SMA II sometimes need support, while SMA III patients seldom need support. Circulation: Circulatory problems during anesthesia are rare. Anesthetic drugs: Neuromuscular blockers: Patients with SMA may display increased sensitivity to and prolonged effect of nondepolarizing neuromuscular blockers. Intubation without muscle relaxation should be considered. Succinylcholine should be avoided. Opioids: These should be titrated carefully. Anesthetic techniques: All types of anesthetic technique have been used. Although none is absolutely contraindicated, none is perfect: anesthesia must be individualized.

Conclusion: The perioperative risks can be considerable and are mainly related to the respiratory system, from respiratory failure to difficult/impossible intubation.

Keywords: airway; congenital anomalies and syndromes; neurological disease; respiration; spinal muscle atrophy.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anesthesia* / ethics
  • Anesthetics
  • Child
  • Humans
  • Muscular Atrophy, Spinal / classification
  • Muscular Atrophy, Spinal / complications*
  • Muscular Atrophy, Spinal / epidemiology
  • Muscular Atrophy, Spinal / genetics*
  • Muscular Atrophy, Spinal / physiopathology*
  • Patient Care Planning
  • Postoperative Care


  • Anesthetics