Find A Physician

Return to Multisystems Atrophy Overview

More on Multisystems Atrophy

Hospital News

Return to Multisystems Atrophy Overview

More on Multisystems Atrophy

Health Library

Return to Multisystems Atrophy Overview

More on Multisystems Atrophy

Research and Clinical Trials

Return to Multisystems Atrophy Overview

More on Multisystems Atrophy

Clinical Services

Return to Multisystems Atrophy Overview

More on Multisystems Atrophy

Multisystems Atrophy

Multiple system atrophy (MSA) is a neurodegenerative disease marked by a combination of symptoms affecting movement, blood pressure, and other body functions; hence the label "multiple system" atrophy. MSA is twice as common in men as in women. The cause of MSA is unknown.

Symptoms of MSA vary in distribution, onset and severity from person to person. Because of this, three different diseases were initially described to encompass this range of symptoms. These diseases are now considered forms of MSA.

  • Shy-Drager syndrome, the most prominent symptoms are those involving the autonomic system, the body system that regulates blood pressure, urinary function, and other functions not involving conscious control
  • Striatonigral degeneration causes parkinsonian symptoms such as slowed movements and rigidity
  • Olivopontocerebellar atrophy principally affects balance, coordination, and speech

Symptoms

MSA can cause a wide range of symptoms, including:

  • stiffness or rigidity
  • freezing or slowed movements
  • postural instability; loss of balance; incoordination
  • Orthostatic hypotension, or a significant fall in blood pressure when standing, causing dizziness, lightheadedness, fainting, or blurred vision
  • male impotence
  • urinary difficulties
  • constipation
  • speech and swallowing difficulties
  • blurred vision

Prognosis

MSA progresses over the course of several years to cause more widespread and severe symptoms. Orthostatic hypotension can cause fainting and falls. Loss of coordination, slowed movements, and rigidity can interfere with activities of daily living. Some patients with MSA have mild loss of cognitive abilities, with impairments in attention and speed of thinking. Some patients may have a normal life expectancy.

Treatment

A number of drugs can be used to treat the various symptoms of MSA, although they become less effective as the disease progresses.

  • Levodopa and dopamine agonists used to treat Parkinson's disease are sometimes effective foror the slowness and rigidity of MSA.
  • Orthostatic hypotension can be improved with fludrocortisone, midodrine, or other drugs that raise blood pressure.
  • Male impotence may be treated with penile implants or drugs.
  • Incontinence may be treated with medications or catheterization.
  • Constipation may improve with increased dietary fiber or laxatives.
  • A speech-language pathologist may be able to offer strategies for improving swallowing and speaking. Use of softer foods may improve the ability to swallow. A gastrostomy tube, which delivers foods directly to the stomach, is occasionally needed later in the disease course.

  • Bookmark
  • Print


eNewsletters
Top of page