Multiple System Atrophy – Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Multiple system atrophy

Multiple system atrophy (MSA) is a rare neurodegenerative fatal disease. It occurs in 4 out of 100,000 people. It affects the autonomous functions in the body like breathing, bladder control, motor control, and blood pressure. It is also known as Shy-Drager syndrome, striatonigral degeneration, and olivopontocerebellar atrophy. 

MSA causes deterioration and shrinkage of portions of your brain like the basal ganglia, cerebellum and brainstem, which regulates digestion, motor control and internal body functions.

Observed under a microscope, the damaged brain tissue of those with MSA shows neurons (nerve cells) that have an abnormal amount of a protein known as alpha-synuclein. 

Neurologists are the medical experts who deal with neurological problems like multiple system atrophy. 

Types of Multiple System Atrophy

There are three types of multiple system atrophy. They are:

  • Cerebellar MSA: In this, the patient suffers from the symptoms like walking issues, coordination problems, and slurred speech 
  • Parkinsonian MSA: In this, the symptoms are similar to Parkinson’s disease, like abnormal and slow walking and  movements, tremors, muscle stiffness and rigidity , etc.
  • Combined MSA: In this type, the patient shows symptoms of both Parkinsonian and Cerebellar MSA.

Symptoms of Multiple System Atrophy include

  • Constipation 
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Postural (orthostatic) hypotension – a form of low blood pressure condition which makes you feel lightheaded, or dizzy or even faint when stand up from lying or sitting 
  • You may develop dangerously high blood pressure levels as well while lying down (supine hypertension)
  • Incontinence of bowel and bladder 
  • Impaired temperature control and reduced sweating 
  • Agitated sleep due to “acting out” dreams
  • Abnormal breathing at night
  • Color changes in hands and feet caused by pooling of the blood
  • Psychiatric issues like difficulty in controlling emotions 

If you have the abovementioned symptoms, you must search and visit the best neurologist nearby to avoid serious complications.

Also Read About: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

When Should I See A Doctor

If you feel you have signs associated with multiple system atrophy, you must visit a doctor immediately. You may visit a neurology expert to get yourself diagnosed and evaluated. If you have been previously diagnosed with multiple system atrophy, you must note if the symptoms have relapsed or worsened.

Call 1860-500-1066 to book an appointment

Diagnosis of Multiple System Atrophy

Diagnosing multiple system atrophy (MSA) is often challenging as the symptoms mimic many other disorders , especially Parkinson’s disease . The medical examination, with many autonomic tests and imaging studies, can help the doctor determine if the diagnosis is MSA.

If your doctor suspects multiple system atrophy, he/she should obtain a medical history, perform a physical exam and also possibly order blood tests. Brain imaging scans like PET scan, or an MRI can be done . 

Doctors may also assess the involuntary functions like 

  1. Blood pressure measurement – standing and lying down 
  2. A sweat test 
  3. Tests to measure your bowel and bladder function
  4. Electrocardiogram 

Treatment of Multiple System Atrophy 

Multiple system atrophy progresses quickly, and treatment is focused on managing the symptoms. A coordinated care approach is prime to optimize the cure for the patient. Specific treatments are used for  symptoms, like:

  • Medications to treat Parkinson’s disease-like symptoms
  • Physical therapy to treat the muscle and motor capacity
  • Impotence drugs to treat the problem of sexual problems
  • Medications to manage blood pressure
  • Management of swallowing and breathing problems
  • With the progression of disease one may even need a catheter to allow the drainage out of the bladder.

Lifestyle Management for MSA 

Along with the treatment, a diet with high salt and fluid intake is required to maintain the plasma volume. 

  • Small but frequent portions can also help patients who have postprandial hypotension. 
  • Constipation can also be prevented with the help of a high-fiber diet. 
  • Avoid getting too hot. 
  • Wear elastic support stockings up to the waist. This helps you keep your blood pressure from dropping.

Complications Due to Multiple System Atrophy

As the disease progresses, certain complications arise along with it, like:

  • Breathing issues while sleeping
  • Difficulty in swallowing
  • Paralysis in vocal cord
  • Immobility


Medical researchers are still trying to figure out a way to treat Multiple system atrophy permanently. The focus is to identify the individuals at risk of developing the disease and finding the factors leading to MSA. As of now, an early diagnosis and treatment can slow down the progression of the disease and help increase the quality of your life. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What are the first signs of multiple system atrophy?

Postural (orthostatic) hypotension – a form of low blood pressure condition which makes you feel lightheaded, or dizzy or even faint when stand up from lying or sitting –  is usually one of the earliest signs.

Is there a cure available for multiple system atrophy?

Unfortunately, there is no cure for multiple system atrophy. The treatment process is to slow down the progression of the disease.

Do multiple system atrophy patients also give rise to dementia?

The multiple system atrophy patients do not produce  dementia, although they may cause damage to the cognitive functions.

What is the lifespan of a person suffering from multiple system atrophy?

Usually, the multiple system atrophy patient has a lifespan of 7 to 10 years. Although it can get increased if diagnosed early and proper treatment gets provided.