MSA 101

Multiple System Atrophy (MSA) is a rare, neurodegenerative disorder affecting multiple body systems. Major symptoms can occur in any combination including ataxia (loss of balance and coordination), severe low blood pressure leading to dizziness or fainting when standing, bladder retention or incontinence, constipation, male impotence, speech and swallowing difficulties, sleep disorders, breathing problems, and rigidity and tremor similar to Parkinson Disease. MSA can actually be considered three disorders in one.
  1. Sporadic Cerebellar Ataxia
  2. Atypical Parkinsonism (Parkinson Plus)
  3. Autonomic Dysfunction (Dysautonomia)
In the past these terms were used to describe what were once thought to be three separate disorders:
  1. Sporadic Olivopontocerebellar Atrophy (OPCA)
  2. Striatonigral Degeneration (SND)
  3. Shy-Drager Syndrome (SDS)
The currently recognized terminology includes only two types of MSA:
  1. MSA-C when cerebellar symptoms are the first prominent symptoms
  2. MSA-P when parkinson symptoms are the first prominent symptoms
The term MSA-A was once used to denote autonomic difficulties, however the most recent consensus guidelines on the diagnosis of Multiple System Atrophy specify that autonomic and/or urinary dysfunction is included in both MSA-C and MSA-P. Multiple System Atrophy is not known to be hereditary, but occurs sporadically with no known family history. It affects both males and females primarily in middle age. Statistical data gives the average age of onset at 50 and the average course of the disease at about 10 years. With knowledge and vigilant medical care, the most troubling symptoms can be managed however and life expectancy can be extended. [For More on MSA, Visit the Mayo Clinic MSA Page]