Respiratory support in spinal muscular atrophy type I: a survey of physician practices and attitudes

M Kathleen Moynihan Hardart, Jeffrey P Burns, Robert D Truog
Pediatrics 2002, 110 (2 Pt 1): e24

OBJECTIVE: To determine whether there is variability in the attitudes and practices of physicians regarding treatment of respiratory failure in children with spinal muscular atrophy type I (SMA type I) and, if so, whether this variation is associated with professional training.

METHODS: This was a descriptive, cross-sectional survey mailed to a randomly selected subset of the Child Neurology Society, pediatric members of the Society of Critical Care Medicine and to the membership of the Pediatric Interest Section of the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. A scenario of a child with SMA type I in respiratory distress was followed by questions that explored practices and attitudes regarding mechanical ventilation.

RESULTS: Fifty-seven percent of intensivists (75 of 132), 39% physiatrists (61 of 155), and 34% of neurologists (61 of 155) responded. Specialists differed as to whether they offered and/or recommended respiratory support to patients with SMA type I. Intensivists were less likely to offer and recommend tracheostomy than physiatrists. Intensivists were also significantly less likely than physiatrists to agree with statements supporting the ethical necessity of noninvasive mechanical ventilation (NIMV) and intubation in the setting of an acute respiratory illness, and NIMV and tracheostomy in the setting of chronic respiratory failure. Although parallel differences were found between physiatrists and neurologists regarding their attitudes toward mechanical ventilation, no significant differences were detected between intensivists and neurologists. Finally, physicians who reported that a high percentage of their patients with SMA type I received "comfort care only" also tended to view mechanical ventilation, ie, use of NIMV for chronic respiratory failure, use of intubation for an acute respiratory infection, and use of tracheostomy for chronic respiratory failure as an unreasonable intervention in most circumstances.

CONCLUSIONS: We found a wide variation in physician practice regarding the mechanical ventilation of patients with SMA type I. This study suggests a wide variation not only in what is recommended but also in what is actually offered to families of these children. Furthermore, the study suggests that physician training and attitudes affect recommendations regarding mechanical ventilation and ultimately family decision making.

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