Recap Of The Impact SMA Can Have On Your Ability To Eat And Process Food

SMA can cause weakness in swallowing muscles and affect how easily food moves through the digestive system. Eating difficulties can either mean someone doesn’t get enough food and becomes underweight or, because their muscle weakness makes it difficult to exercise, they can become overweight. Extra weight can increase the stress on muscles, bones and joints, making physical activity and breathing even more difficult. 

These difficulties are more common for people who are non-sitters or sitters but not so common for walkers. They don’t all happen to everyone – as always with SMA, everyone is different – but we’re explaining them here in case it helps you talk about them to your parents and / or someone in your medical team if you’re at all worried about any of them happening to you. 

Due to weak muscles caused by their SMA, some people have problems with reflux (which can feel like an uncomfortable burning sensation in their chest or throat); some people can be sick after eating; some people can have difficulty going for a poo (become constipated). Constipation can lead to feeling uncomfortable and a fullness in the stomach that reduces the movement of the diaphragm (the dome-shaped muscle that’s below the lungs and is important for breathing in) which in turn can make it more difficult to breathe and cough. Some people may also have problems with their ability to break down foods to produce energy (their metabolism). They may have high or low blood sugar and / or problems with breaking down fat.  

If you’re a ‘sitter’ or ‘non sitter’ you may have difficulty swallowing safely. If you do, this can feel frightening and may mean you’re at risk of ‘breathing in’ food or drink (aspiration) which can make you choke and possibly cause a chest infection. 

Page last reveiwed: August 2021

Next review: August 2022