What is MSA?
Multiple system atrophy (MSA) is a progressive neurological disorder that affects adult men and women. It is caused by degeneration or atrophy of nerve cells in several (or multiple) areas of the brain which can result in problems with movement, balance and automatic functions of the body such as bladder and blood pressure control.
How common is MSA?
Until recently MSA was thought to be a very rare disorder. As we learn more about the condition, it has become somewhat easier to recognise and diagnose. Recent research suggests it affects about 4.4 people per 100,000 so that at any one time there are almost 3,000 people living with MSA in the UK. Parkinson’s disease is about 45 times more common, affecting about 200 per 100,000 in the UK.
Who gets MSA?
MSA usually starts between the ages of 50-60 years, but it can affect people younger and older. MSA does not appear to be hereditary although current research is examining whether or not there is a genetic predisposition to develop the disease. The importance of environmental factors is not clear and there is still much to understand about the condition. We do know it is not infectious or contagious and has no connection with the much more common neurological disease, multiple sclerosis (MS).
What does MSA mean?
The term multiple system atrophy was first introduced in 1969 as an umbrealla term for three similar conditions: ‘Shy-Drager Syndrome’, ‘olivopontocerebellar atrophy (OPCA)’ and ‘striatonigral degeneration (SND)’. Until 1969 these conditions were thought to be distinct but Graham and Oppenheimer noticed the clinical overlap between the three and proposed calling them MSA. In 1996 an international consensus of medical experts recommended the adoption of the name multiple system atrophy (MSA) and the terms ‘MSA-C’ and ‘MSA-P’ to indicate whether a patient’s problems were predominantly cerebellar or parkinsonian respectively.