Anxiety and depression are highly prevalent among school-age children with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), according to a Chinese study published in the Orphanet Journal of Rare Diseases. This finding suggests that professional psychological care may be beneficial in the standard of care for these patients. 

The authors of the study also proposed a number of interventions that could improve the mental health of SMA patients. These include improving drug accessibility, retaining normal schooling, strengthening school support, and enhancing the ability of caregivers to assist in the diagnosis and treatment of the disease.

“Professional psychological care for SMA patients is essential,” the researchers wrote. “It is urgent for the care and drugs of SMA to be covered by the healthcare system,” they added and said that the psychological health of caregivers can be improved through disease awareness and public education, thereby raising the quality of care for children with SMA.

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Read more about SMA etiology

A cross-sectional study in children 8 to 18 years of age with a genetic diagnosis of SMA was conducted by a team of researchers from Zhejiang University, School of Medicine in Hangzhou, China. This study was completed to explore the prevalence of anxiety and depression in school-age children with SMA as well as other factors that may influence their mental health.

The children were asked to complete a self-rating scale to evaluate their level of depression and anxiety. This was followed by additional questions to assess the subjective anxiety and depression of the children’s caregivers and their expectations for the future of their child.

A total of 155 patients responded. Of these, more than half had SMA type 2 (65.2%), 27.1% had SMA type 3, and 7.7% had SMA type 1. The researchers calculated that the rate of anxiety and depression among all patients was 40% and 25.2%, respectively. 

There were no associations between the rate of anxiety and depression of the patient with the patient’s gender, age, or SMA type. However, there was a significant relationship between both anxiety and depression and the patients’ respiratory and digestive system dysfunction and skeletal deformity. Rehabilitation exercise, academic delay, specialized support from the school, income level in the household, and the subjective anxiety and the expectations of the caregivers were also significantly related to anxiety and depression in the children.

It was already known that SMA can have a severe impact on patients’ mental health. However, the psychological health of school-age children with the disease has not been systematically analyzed. 


Yao M, Xia Y, Feng Y, et al. Anxiety and depression in school-age patients with spinal muscular atrophy: a cross-sectional study. Orphanet J Rare Dis. 2021;9;16(1):385. doi:10.1186/s13023-021-02008-8