This information is provided by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center (GARD).
Multiple system atrophy (MSA) causes the progressive loss of nerve cells in the brain (a neurodegenerative disease). MSA affects several areas of the brain, including the cerebellum, which is involved in controlling movement and some emotions, as well as certain types of learning and memory, and the autonomic nervous system, which controls your body’s automatic, or regulating functions, such as blood pressure, digestion and temperature.The initial symptoms of MSA start around age 50, and are very similar to the initial symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. These symptoms may include slowness of movement, tremor, or rigidity (stiffness), clumsiness or coordination problems, difficulties with speech, orthostatic hypotension (a condition in which blood pressure drops when rising from a seated or lying down position), and bladder control problems. Other symptoms of MSA may include muscle contractures, abnormal posture, bending of the neck, involuntary sighing, trouble sleeping and emotional problems. As MSA progresses, breathing problems while sleeping (sleep apnea) and irregular heart rhythms may develop.
MSA may be divided in 2 subtypes, depending on the main symptoms at the time when a person with MSA is evaluated:
The cause of MSA is unknown, although environmental toxins, trauma, and genetic factors may be involved. Most cases occur at random, without any other cases in the family. Diagnosis of MSA is suggested by a combination of symptoms, physical examination, lab test results, and response to certain medications. However, no laboratory or imaging studies are able to confirm the diagnosis.
Treatment may include medication, physical, occupational, and speech therapy, and nutritional support. There is no cure for MSA, and there is no known way to prevent the disease from getting worse. The goal of treatment is to control symptoms. Most people with MSA survive between 6-15 years after symptoms first begin.
For more information, visit GARD.