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Is Multiple System Atrophy Fatal?

Multiple system atrophy is a rare progressive disease of the nervous system that degenerates the parts of the brain meant for control of various internal body processes.1 Its symptoms resemble the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. Unlike Parkinson’s disease, it also affects internal body processes. It affects both men and women equally. Its symptoms appear at the age of 50 years and above. Its symptoms include loss of muscle control, abnormal heartbeat, low blood pressure, lack of coordination and others. It cannot be cured completely, but its symptoms can be treated. Still, it can cause life-threatening complications and even death.

Is Multiple System Atrophy Fatal?

Is Multiple System Atrophy Fatal?

The outlook of multiple system atrophy is not good. With the progress of this disease, the physical and motor functions deteriorate with time. It also affects the life expectancy of the patient. Patient is likely to survive only 7 to 9 years after diagnosis. Multiple system atrophy is progressive and ultimately that may cause death. It has been reported that sudden death is quite common in the patients of multiple system atrophy. In research studies, it is found that most patients with multiple system atrophy may die suddenly at night during sleep even in the early stages of the disease.

Multiple system atrophy is a rare progressive disease that affects the autonomic nervous system and movement. It is a degenerative disease that slowly degenerates the autonomic nervous system. The autonomic nervous system is responsible to control various involuntary functions such as blood pressure, bladder function, breathing, and muscle control. Its symptoms are very similar to Parkinson’s disease that includes slow movement, poor muscle coordination, poor balance, and rigid muscles.2

Multiple System Atrophy Types

Multiple system atrophy affects both males and females equally in their age of 50 years. in most cases, patients usually die in 7-10 years after diagnosis. It is of two types-

MSA-C- it involves cerebellum and it leads to loss of coordination and balance.

MSA-P- its symptoms are very similar to Parkinson disease. In this type, tremor does not appear always in each case and it is not relieved by levodopa as it does in Parkinson’s disease.

Multiple System Atrophy Causes

The causes of multiple system atrophy are not clear. Basal ganglion (a group of nerve fibers in the cerebrum) controls the voluntary action of muscles in both ways (straight and opposite). Cerebellum regulates complex voluntary movements. The autonomic nervous system controls the involuntary movements of the internal process of the body like blood pressure regulations, heartbeats, etc. Multiple system atrophy is assumed to occur due to the accumulation of an abnormal number of synuclein in the nerve fibers. Synuclein is a protein that helps in communication between nerve cells. Its exact function is not known. High levels of synuclein are also found in the people who have Parkinson’s disease, pure autonomic failure, and Lewy body dementia. Its accumulation is also seen in rapid eye movement REM or sleep behavior disorder.

Multiple System Atrophy Symptoms

Initial symptoms of multiple system atrophy include-

  • The decrease in the pace of movement of the muscles
  • Muscle stiffness
  • Clumsiness or loss of coordination
  • Bladder problems like urine urgency or urine incontinence
  • Lowering of blood pressure while rising from a seated position or when you lie down.

Symptoms according to its type-

MSA-C- its primary symptoms include difficulties in swallowing and speech, quavering voice, abnormal eye movements and ataxia (problems with coordination and balance)
MSA-P- it causes symptoms similar to Parkinson’s disease for example muscle rigidity, problems related body balance and coordination

Other symptoms-

  • Involuntary sighing
  • Contractures in extremities
  • Sleep disorders that involve rapid eye movements
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Abnormal posture

The patient of multiple system atrophy needs a walker as the disease progresses to muscle wasting within one year.


Multiple system atrophy is a fatal neurological disorder characterized by muscle stiffness, loss of coordination and improper function of internal body processes. It is a progressive disease. Its outlook is not good. It may transform into life-threatening consequences and even cause death.


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Sheetal DeCaria, M.D.
Sheetal DeCaria, M.D.
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Sheetal DeCaria, M.D. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:August 2, 2019

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