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What is Multiple System Atrophy?

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  • Written By: Shannon Kietzman
  • Edited By: Niki Foster
  • Last Modified Date: 28 April 2018
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2018
    Conjecture Corporation
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Multiple system atrophy is an umbrella term used to describe three different disorders affecting the autonomic and central nervous systems. Each of the diseases within the spectrum are progressive, with most patients having a life expectancy of ten years or less after diagnosis. The disorders are twice as common in men as they are in women and are most commonly diagnosed in individuals over the age of 50.

Regardless of the form of multiple system atrophy a person experiences, there are several symptoms that are commonly experienced. People with one of these disorders often experiences a drop in blood pressure upon standing, which can lead to a feeling of dizziness and may cause temporary blackouts. This symptom is referred to as orthostatic hypotension or postural hypotension.

A person with multiple system atrophy may also experience a general loss of coordination and balance. He or she may have difficulty with swallowing and breathing and may experience rigidity and stiffness. In addition, the person may experience blurred vision, urinary difficulties, and constipation. In males, impotence may occur. The majority of patients also develop dementia during the later stages of the disease.

There is no known method for treating multiple system atrophy, but some of the symptoms can be addressed. Levodopa, which was developed for individuals with Parkinson’s disease, may bring about some relief of some symptoms. The nervous system degeneration, however, is not affected by the medication.

Anticholinergic drugs and dopamine may be used to help relieve spasms, and certain drugs can be used to raise the patient’s blood pressure. For those with breathing difficulty or problems swallowing, a breathing tube or artificial feeding tube may be used. For impotence, male patients may take drugs or have penile implants.

Natural treatments for multiple system atrophy are also beneficial in addressing its symptoms. Dietary changes can help with constipation, for example, while exercise and stretches can improve or maintain the patient’s muscle strength and range of motion.

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