Multiple System Atrophy Awareness

Spreading awareness worldwide

What is Multiple System Atrophy?


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 (neurogenic orthostatic hypotension), bladder retention or incontinence, constipation, erectile dysfunction, speech and swallowing difficulties, sleep disorders, breathing problems, and rigidity and tremor similar to Parkinson’s Disease.

MSA can actually be considered three disorders in one.
1. Sporadic Cerebellar Ataxia
2. Atypical Parkinsonism (Parkinson’s 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 (additional symptoms from the other type can develop)
2. MSA-P when parkinson symptoms are the first prominent symptoms (additional symptoms from the other type can develop)

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.

Affecting approximately 4.6 individuals per 100,000 or about 15,000 in the US, the average age of onset is 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.  Speech therapy, occupational therapy and exercise are especially important.  Managing sleep apnea through Continuous Positive Pressure (CPAP) can greatly improve quality of life.

For more information please see these informative pamphlets which are suitable for printing.

  • MSA Pamphlet from the National Institutes of Health
  • MSA Pamphlet from Parkinson Society Canada
  • MSA Pamphlet from Parkinson New Zealand
  • BASIC MSA INFORMATION: Please see this collection of  information referred to as MSA-101


    One Reply

    1. Pauline Coombe Nov 21st 2010

      I have had MSA for approx 8 years (hard to say how long, cos menopause kicked in about the same time and a lot of symptems are similar) I live in Tauranga NZ and would love to connect with others with MSA here.