Multiple system atrophy (MSA) is a disorder of the nervous system.
MSA is sometimes called a Parkinson’s plus syndrome because many of the symptoms are similar. There are different types MSA based on symptoms. Once symptoms develop, the average life expectancy is 10 years or less.
The cause of MSA is unknown. Genetic factors may play a role in some families.
The symptoms are caused by degeneration of nerves throughout the brain and spinal cord. These nerves control automatic functions like balance and muscle coordination. The damage to the nerve may be caused by a buildup of a specific protein, but this is not a confirmed cause.
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MSA tends to appear after 60 years of age.
Symptoms of MSA can vary greatly. Initial symptoms are similar to those of Parkinson's disease. These initial symptoms may also be determined by the type of MSA: Type MSA-A is associated with orthostatic hypotension. This is where blood pressure drops when moving from sitting to standing. It can lead to lightheadedness or fainting.
Type MSA-P is associated with symptoms similar to initial Parkinson's symptoms such as:
Slow, stiff movementsTremorsClumsiness—loss of balance and coordinationShuffling
Type MSA-C is associated with:
Difficulty swallowingProblems speaking and hoarsenessTrouble breathing due to tightness in throatDifficulty coordinating muscle movement
As the disease progresses, symptoms will cross over types and become more severe. Many will develop muscle coordination problems and need walking aids. Other problems that may exist across type include: Problems with bladder and bowel controlErectile dysfunctionMuscle tightening around a joint that prevents free movementProblems with posture, such as leaning to one side and forward head bendTrouble with sweatingInappropriate laughing or cryingExcess yawningVision problemsChanges in writing
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. An exam of the nervous system will also be done. You will likely be referred to a specialist.
Tests may include: Blood testsTesting of owel and bladder function
Images may be taken of your bodily structures. This can be done with an
Tests will also be done on your heart rate and blood pressure. These tests will help determine what is causing problems with your autonomic nervous system. Nerve impulses to your muscles may also be tested.
There is no cure for MSA. Treatment will focus on managing the symptoms and supportive care. Talk with your doctor about the best plan for you. Options include the following:
Various medications may be used to manage the symptoms of MSA. Medication may be given to: Relieve muscle rigidityStabilize moodManage orthostatic hypotensionRelieve other symptoms such as constipation, urinary control problems, or erectile dysfunction
Physical therapy—to help keep muscles strong and maintain range of motionOccupational therapy—to improve ability to do daily tasks such as eating, grooming, and dressingSpeech therapy—to help with speaking and swallowing
Respiratory therapy—Continuous positive airway pressure
and other breathing problems during sleep
Dietary changes in salt and fluids may help manage orthostatic hypotension.
Soft or pureed foods may be helpful with swallowing problems.
may be needed in later stages of MSA. It will deliver nutrition directly to the stomach.
There are no known guidelines to prevent MSA since the cause is not clear.
Multiple system atrophy fact sheet. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at:
http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/msa/detail_msa.htm. Updated November 5, 2014. Accessed January 10, 2017.
Multiple system atrophy/Shy-Drager syndrome. Vanderbilt University Medical Center website. Available at:
http://www.mc.vanderbilt.edu/root/vumc.php?site=adc&doc=4791. Accessed January 10, 2017.
NINDS multiple system atrophy with orthostatic hypotension information page. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at:
http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/msa_orthostatic_hypotension/msa_orthostatic_hypotension.htm. Updated December 5, 2013. Accessed January 10, 2017.
NINDS olivopontocerebellar atrophy information page. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at:
https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/All-Disorders/Olivopontocerebellar-Atrophy-Information-Page. Accessed January 10, 2017.
Last reviewed January 2017 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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