Multiple-system atrophy (MSA) is a degenerative neurological disorder. MSA is associated with the degeneration of nerve cells in specific areas of the brain. This cell degeneration causes problems with movement, balance, and other autonomic functions of the body such as bladder control or blood-pressure regulation. The cause of MSA is unknown and no specific risk factors have been identified. Around 55% of cases occur in men, with typical age of onset in the late 50s to early 60s.
There is no discovered cure for MSA, so treatment involves treating the symptoms.
Ongoing care from a neurologist specialized in "movement disorders" is recommended as the complex symptoms of MSA are often not familiar to less-specialized health care professionals.
One particularly serious problem, the drop in blood pressure upon standing up (with risk of fainting thus injury from falling) often responds tofludrocortisone, a synthetic mineralocorticoid. Another common drug treatment is midodrine (an alpha-agonist). Non-drug treatments include "head-up tilt" (elevating the head of the whole bed by about 10 degrees), salt tablets or increasing salt in the diet, generous intake of fluids, and pressure (elastic) stockings. Avoidance of triggers of low blood pressure (such as hot weather, alcohol, dehydration) are crucial.
Hospice/homecare services can be very useful as disability progresses.
Levodopa (L-Dopa), a drug used in the treatment of Parkinson's disease, fails to improve the parkinsonian symptoms of most MSA patients. A recent trial reported that only 1.5% of MSA patients experienced a less than 50% improvement when taking levodopa, and even this was a transient effect lasting less than one year. Poor response to L-Dopa has been suggested as a possible element in the differential diagnosis of MSA from Parkinson's disease.
A recent study conducted in Europe failed to find an effect for the drug riluzole in treating MSA or PSP.