Respiratory management of children with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA)

Arch Pediatr. 2020 Dec;27(7S):7S29-7S34. doi: 10.1016/S0929-693X(20)30274-8.


Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) causes a predominantly bilateral proximal muscle weakness and atrophy. The respiratory muscles are also involved with a weakness of the intercostal muscles and a relatively spared diaphragm. This respiratory muscle weakness translates into a cough impairment, resulting in poor clearance of airway secretions and recurrent pulmonary infections, restrictive lung disease due to a poor or insufficient chest wall and lung growth, nocturnal hypoventilation and, finally, respiratory failure. Systematic and regular monitoring of respiratory muscle performance is necessary in children with SMA in order to anticipate respiratory complications, such as acute and chronic respiratory failure, and guide clinical care. This monitoring is based in clinical practice on volitional and noninvasive tests, such as vital capacity, sniff nasal inspiratory pressure, maximal static pressures, peak expiratory flow and peak cough flow because of their simplicity, availability and ease. In young children, those with poor cooperation or severe respiratory muscle weakness, other, mostly invasive, tests may be required to evaluate respiratory muscle performance. A sleep study, or at least overnight monitoring of nocturnal gas exchange is mandatory for detecting nocturnal alveolar hypoventilation. Training for patients and caregivers in cough-assisted techniques is recommended when respiratory muscle strength falls below 50% of predicted or in case of recurrent or severe respiratory infections. Noninvasive ventilation (NIV) should be initiated in case of isolated nocturnal hypoventilation and followed by a pediatric respiratory team with expertise in NIV. Multidisciplinary (neurology and respiratory) pediatric management is crucial for optimal care of children with SMA. © 2020 French Society of Pediatrics. Published by Elsevier Masson SAS. All rights reserved.

Keywords: Neuromuscular disease; Nocturnal hypoventilation; Noninvasive ventilation; Sleep; Sleep-disordered breathing; Tracheotomy.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Humans
  • Muscle Strength
  • Respiratory Muscles / physiopathology*
  • Respiratory Therapy / methods*
  • Spinal Muscular Atrophies of Childhood / diagnosis
  • Spinal Muscular Atrophies of Childhood / physiopathology
  • Spinal Muscular Atrophies of Childhood / therapy*