Autonomic Disorders Consortium

Information for Patients and Families

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Multiple System Atrophy (MSA)

What is Multiple System Atrophy (MSA)?

Multiple system atrophy (MSA) is a rare neurodegenerative disease marked by a combination of symptoms affecting movement, blood pressure, and other body functions; hence the label "multiple system" atrophy. According to the American Autonomic Society, Multiple System Atrophy (MSA) is a sporadic, progressive, adult-onset disorder characterized by autonomic dysfunction, parkinsonism and ataxia (a failure of muscular coordination) in any combination.

Symptoms of MSA include:

Who gets MSA?

MSA affects both men and women primarily in their 50s.

What causes MSA?

Multiple system atrophy is associated with deterioration and shrinkage (atrophy) of portions of the brain (cerebellum, basal ganglia and brainstem) that regulate internal body functions, digestion and motor control.

There is no known cause for brain changes in MSA.

How is MSA diagnosed?

Diagnosis of MSA can be challenging because there is no test that can make or confirm the diagnosis in a living patient. Certain signs and symptoms of MSA also occur with other disorders, such as Parkinson's disease, making the diagnosis more difficult.

If your doctor suspects multiple system atrophy, he or she will obtain a medical history and perform a physical examination. You may receive a referral to a neurologist or other specialist for specific evaluations that can help in making the diagnosis.

Tests that may be helpful in making a diagnosis include:

For patients with sleep irregularities, particularly if they involve interrupted breathing or snoring, physicians may recommend an evaluation in a sleep laboratory to determine if there is an underlying and treatable sleep disorder, such as sleep apnea.

What is the treatment for MSA?

There is no known cure for MSA, so management of the disease focuses on treating the more disabling symptoms listed above.

A clinical trial of the drug Rifampicin is being conducted by the Autonomic Disorders Consortium.