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Multiple System Atrophy

What is Multiple System Atrophy?

Multiple system atrophy (MSA) is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder that affects both voluntary muscle movements and involuntary (autonomic) functions, such as a blood pressure and heart rate.

There are two types of MSA, and diagnosis depends on the symptoms that are most prominent during the initial medical evaluation:

  • Parkinsonian (MSA-P) shares some of the physical characteristics of Parkinson’s disease, such as tremors, stiffness, and slowed movements.
  • Cerebellar (MSA-C) is characterized by balance and coordination problems, difficulty swallowing, speech abnormalities, and abnormal eye movements

Symptoms of Multiple System Atrophy

Symptoms of multiple system atrophy may include:

  • Fainting spells or lightheadedness
  • Low blood pressure
  • Loss of balance
  • Rigidity
  • Slowed movements
  • Tremors
  • Speech problems
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Bowel and bladder dysfunction
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Gait abnormalities

Treatments for Multiple System Atrophy

There is no known cure for multiple system atrophy, nor is there a way to slow its progression. However, medications may provide some relief from symptoms.

Speech, physical, and occupational therapy may also help you manage multiple system atrophy.

Additional Information

How common is multiple system atrophy?

Multiple system atrophy is a rare disorder. It affects about two to five of every 100,000 people.

Who gets multiple system atrophy?

Symptoms of multiple system atrophy develop in adulthood, usually in a person’s 50s. Men are affected more often than are women. Most cases of MSA are sporadic.

How is multiple system atrophy diagnosed?

Multiple system atrophy can be difficult to diagnose, particularly in the early stages, because symptoms resemble those of other movement disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease. However, MSA tends to progress more rapidly than Parkinson’s disease.

In addition to physical and neurological examinations, your doctor may use the following tests to diagnose MSA:

  • Autonomic function tests
  • MRI scan
  • PET scan

Additional Information about Multiple System Atrophy

NIH – Multiple System Atrophy Fact Sheet

Multiple System Atrophy: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia

The MSA Coalition

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Symptoms of multiple system atrophy develop in adulthood, usually in a person’s 50s.
Medically Reviewed by Holly Shill, MD, FAAN on March 31, 2021