March is Multiple System Atrophy (MSA) Awareness Month:
MSA is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder characterized by a combination of symptoms that affect both the autonomic nervous system and movement. The symptoms reflect the progressive loss of function of different types of nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. MSA is a rare disease, affecting potentially 15,000 to 50,000 Americans. Symptoms tend to appear in a person’s 50s and advance rapidly over the course of 5 to 10 years, with progressive loss of motor function. While some of the symptoms of MSA can be treated with medications, currently there are no drugs that are able to slow disease progression and there is no cure.
The initial symptoms of MSA are often difficult to distinguish from the initial symptoms of Parkinson’s disease and include:
slowness of movement, tremor, or rigidity (stiffness)
clumsiness or incoordination
impaired speech, a croaky, quivering voice
fainting or lightheadedness due to orthostatic hypotension, a condition in which blood pressure drops when rising from a seated or lying down position
MSA tends to progress more rapidly than Parkinson’s disease, and most people with MSA will require an aid for walking, such as a cane or walker, within a few years after symptoms begin.
The cause of MSA is unknown. The vast majority of cases are sporadic, meaning they occur at random. Making a diagnosis of MSA can be difficult, particularly in the early stages, in part because many of the features are similar to those observed in Parkinson’s disease.