Multiple System Atrophy

What is Multiple System Atrophy?

Multiple System Atrophy (MSA) is a neurodegenerative condition that affects a person’s autonomic nervous system and movement ability. It is characterized by the loss of function and the death of various nerve cells within the spinal cord and brain. MSA is a rare progressive disorder, affecting up to 50,000 Americans from all walks of life and racial backgrounds. Most cases appear randomly, and the cause of the disease is not known. However, research has shown an association with a buildup of alpha-synuclein protein in the nerve cells of the brain.

MSA is divided into two types: the parkinsonian type (MSA-P) and the cerebellar type (MSA-C). MSA-P is the form that imitates Parkinson’s, while MSA-C presents as more of a neurological condition. Not surprisingly, MSA is sometimes mistaken for Parkinson’s, especially during the early stages.

What are the Symptoms of Multiple System Atrophy?

Patients typically first notice indications of MSA when they are in their 50s, and symptoms can advance quickly in the first five to ten years. Depending on the type of MSA can vary.

Symptoms include

  • Fainting spells
  • Irregular heart beat
  • Lack of bladder control
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Tremors
  • Slow movement
  • Lightheadedness
  • Muscle rigidity
  • Lack of muscle coordination
  • Speech difficulties
  • Abnormal eye movements
  • Change in gait

During the later stages, patients may eventually be confined to their beds. They can also develop pneumonia or die suddenly as a result of respiratory or cardiac issues associated with MSA.

How is Multiple System Atrophy Treated?

There is no cure for multiple system atrophy, so treatment focuses on managing the symptoms to help patients preserve as much function as possible.

Treatments include

Medications can be used to raise blood pressure, treat impotence, reduce Parkinson’s-like symptoms, and improve bladder function. If breathing or swallowing is a problem, breathing or feeding tubes may need to be surgically inserted. In some cases, doctors may recommend implanting a pacemaker to help improve blood pressure.

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Last Reviewed:
September 21, 2016
Last Updated:
August 31, 2017
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