Multiple system atrophy (MSA) is a disorder of the nervous system that gets worse over time. It affects the part of the nervous system that controls automatic functions like balance and coordination. This can lead to early death.
MSA is sometimes called a Parkinson plus syndrome because some symptoms are similar. There are different types of MSA.
MSA happens when nerve cells to break down in the brain and spinal cord. These nerves control automatic functions. The damage to the cells may be caused by a buildup of a certain protein. It is not known why this happens.
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This problem is more common in men and people who are older than 54 years of age.
Symptoms vary from person to person and by type of MSA. At first, symptoms may be like that of Parkinson disease. They may also differ by type of MSA:
Type MSA-A may cause lightheadedness or fainting when moving from sitting to standing
Type MSA-P has problems that are like Parkinson disease, such as:
- Slow, stiff movements
- Loss of balance and coordination
- Shuffling when walking
Type MSA-C problems may be:
- Difficulty swallowing
- Problems speaking and hoarseness
- Trouble breathing
- Coordination problems
As MSA worsens, a person may have:
- Problems with bladder and bowel control
Erection problems (in men)
- Muscle tightening that makes it hard to move
- Problems with posture, such as leaning to one side and forward head bend
- Reduced sweating
- Excess yawning
- Problems seeing
- Changes in writing
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. An exam of the nervous system will also be done. It will focus on the parts of the nervous system that control automatic functions. You will likely need to see a specialist.
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There is no cure. The goal of treatment is to manage the symptoms a person has. Choices are:
Medicines may be given to ease problems like:
- Muscle stiffness
- Mood problems
- Lightheadedness that happens when standing
- Other symptoms, such as constipation, urinary control problems, or erectile dysfunction
Some therapies that may be needed are:
- Physical therapy to help with strength and range of motion
- Occupational therapy to help with everyday tasks and self-care
- Speech therapy to improve swallowing and speaking
Respiratory therapy to support breathing
Dietary changes may help manage symptoms. For example, soft foods may make it easier for people who have problems swallowing.
There are no known guidelines to prevent this health problem.
Flabeau O, Meissner WG, et al. Multiple system atrophy: current and future approaches to management. Ther Adv Neurol Disord. 2010 Jul;3(4):249-263.
Multiple system atrophy. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/multiple-system-atrophy. Accessed January 22, 2021.
Multiple system atrophy information page. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at: https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/All-Disorders/Multiple-System-Atrophy-Information-Page. Accessed January 22, 2021.
Multiple system atrophy orthostatic hypotension information page. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at: https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/All-Disorders/Multiple-System-Atrophy-Orthostatic-Hypotension-Information-Page/2796/organizations/1143. Accessed January 22, 2021.
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 22, 2021.
Stefanova N. Translational therapies for multiple system atrophy: Bottlenecks and future directions. Auton Neurosci. 2017; doi: 10.1016/j.autneu.2017.09.016.
Last reviewed December 2020 by
EBSCO Medical Review Board
Rimas Lukas, MD
Last Updated: 1/22/2021