Search

Multiple system atrophy

Definition

Multiple system atrophy (MSA) is a rare condition that causes symptoms similar to Parkinson's disease . However, patients with MSA have more widespread damage to the part of the nervous system that controls important functions such as heart rate, blood pressure, and sweating.

Alternative Names

Shy-Drager syndrome; Neurologic orthostatic hypotension; Shy-McGee-Drager syndrome; Parkinson's plus syndrome; MSA-P; MSA-C

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

The cause is unknown. MSA develops gradually and is most often diagnosed in men older than 60.

Symptoms

MSA damages the nervous system. Symptoms can include:

  • Face changes
  • or swallowing (occasionally)Difficulty chewing
  • Disrupted sleep patterns (especially during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep late at night)
  • or Dizziness when standing up or after standing stillfainting
  • Frequent falls
  • Impotence
  • Loss of control over bowels or bladder
  • Loss of fine motor skills
  • Loss of sweating in any part of the body
  • Mild decline in mental function
  • Movement difficulties
  • and pains (myalgia)Muscle aches
  • Muscle rigidity
  • Nausea and problems with digestion
  • Posture difficulties: may be unstable, stooped, or slumped over
  • Slow movements
  • Tremors
  • Vision changes, decreased or blurred vision
  • Voice and speech changes

Other symptoms that may occur with this disease:

Signs and tests

Your doctor or nurse will examine you, and check your eyes, nerves, and muscles.

Your blood pressure will be taken while you are lying down and standing up.

There are no specific tests to confirm this disease. A neurologist can make the diagnosis based on:

  • History of symptoms
  • Physical examination results
  • Ruling out other causes of symptoms

Testing to help confirm the diagnosis may include:

Treatment

There is no cure for MSA. There is no known way to prevent the disease from getting worse. The goal of treatment is to control symptoms.

Anticholinergic medications may be used to reduce early or mild tremors. Levodopa may improve movement and balance.

Carbidopa is usually added to Levodopa to reduce its side effects and make it work better. However, for people with MSA the response to medications may be disappointing. Many people respond poorly to treatment with anticholinergics or Levodopa.

Medications that may be used to treat low blood pressure include:

  • Beta-blockers
  • Fludrocortisone (Florinef)
  • MAO inhibitors
  • Vasoconstrictors (midodrine)
  • Vasopressin

A pacemaker that is programmed to stimulate the heart to beat at a rapid rate (faster than 100 beats per minute) may increase blood pressure for some people.

Constipation can be treated with a high-fiber diet and laxatives. Medicines are available to treat impotence.

Support Groups

Expectations (prognosis)

The outcome is poor. Loss of mental and physical functions slowly get worse. Early death is likely. Patients typically live 7 to 9 years after diagnosis.

Complications

  • Progressive loss of ability to walk or care for self
  • Difficulty performing daily activities
  • Injuries from falls/fainting
  • Side effects of medications

Calling your health care provider

Call your health care provider if you develop symptoms of this disorder.

Call your health care provider if you have been diagnosed with MSA and your symptoms return or get worse. Also call if new symptoms appear, including possible side effects of medications:

  • Changes in alertness/behavior/mood
  • Delusional behavior
  • Dizziness
  • Hallucinations
  • Involuntary movements
  • Loss of mental functioning
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Severe confusion or disorientation

Contact your health care provider if you have a family member with this disorder and his or her condition deteriorates to the point that you are unable to care for the person at home.

Prevention

References

Jankovic J, Shannon KM. Movement disorders. In: Bradley WG, Daroff RB, Fenichel GM, Jankovic J, eds. . 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Butterworth Heinemann Elsevier; 2008:chap 75.

Encyclopedia content is provided as information only and not intended to replace the advice and instruction from your personal physician.