Disease at a Glance

Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is a group of genetic neuromuscular disorders that affect the nerve cells that control voluntary muscles (motor neurons). The loss of motor neurons causes progressive muscle weakness and loss of movement due to muscle wasting (atrophy). Many types of SMA mainly affect the muscles involved in walking, sitting, arm movement, and head control. Breathing and swallowing may also become difficult as the disease progresses in many types of SMA. In some types of SMA, the loss of motor neurons makes it hard to control movement of the hands and feet. SMA type 1, 2, 3, and 4 are caused by changes (pathogenic variants, also know as genetic changes) in the SMN1 gene and are inherited in an autosomal recessive manner. Extra copies of the nearby related gene, SMN2, modify the severity of SMA. There are other rarer types of SMA caused by changes in different genes. Other autosomal recessive forms include SMA with progressive myoclonic epilepsy (SMA-PME) caused by changes in the ASAH1 gene and SMA with respiratory distress 1 (SMARD1) caused by changes in the IGHMBP2 gene. X-linked forms include X-linked infantile SMA caused by changes in UBA1. Diagnosis of SMA is suspected by symptoms and confirmed by genetic testing.
Estimated Number of People with this Disease

This section is currently in development.

What Information Does GARD Have For This Disease?

Many rare diseases have limited information. Currently GARD is able to provide the following information for this disease:

*Data may be currently unavailable to GARD at this time.
When do symptoms of this disease begin?
This section is currently in development. 


This section is currently in development. We recommend speaking with a doctor to learn more about this disease. 


This section is currently in development. 

Next Steps

Talking with the Medical Team

Good communication between the patient, family, and medical team can lead to an accurate diagnosis. In addition, health care decisions can be made together which improves the patient’s well-being and quality of life.

Describing Symptoms

Describe details about the symptoms. Because there may be many different causes for a single symptom, it is best not to make a conclusion about the diagnosis. The detailed descriptions help the medical provider determine the correct diagnosis.

To help describe a symptom:

  • Use a smartphone or a notebook to record each symptom before the appointment
  • Describe each symptom by answering the following questions:
    • When did the symptom start?
    • How often does it happen?
    • Does anything make it better or worse?
  • Tell the medical team whether any symptoms affect daily activities

Preparing for the First Visit

Working with a medical team to find a diagnosis can be a long process that will require more than one appointment. Make better health decisions by being prepared for the first visit with each member of the medical team.

    Make informed decisions about health care: 
    • Prepare a list of questions and concerns before the appointment
    • List the most important questions first, not all questions may be answered in the first visit
    • Ask questions about symptoms, possible diagnoses, tests, and treatment options
    For future appointments:
    • Discuss what was not addressed at the last visit
    • Discuss changes in the quality of life for the patient, family, and caregivers
    • Discuss health goals and other issues in the patient’s and family’s life that may affect the health care decisions
    Take notes during the appointments to help remember what was discussed.

    Last Updated: Nov. 8, 2021