Having a diagnosis of MSA does not mean all possible symptoms will be experienced – no two people have exactly the same set of issues or style of progression. There is currently no cure or specific treatment to prevent MSA progressing but there are ways of assisting and alleviating symptoms. The MSA Trust is here to support people at every stage of their diagnosis, along with their families, friends, carers and health professionals.
What are the first signs of MSA?
For men, the first symptom is often erectile dysfunction (the inability to achieve or sustain an erection). It is unknown why this should happen but the problem is often incorrectly attributed to ageing without exploring other possibilities.
Both men and women may have early bladder problems: urgency, frequency, incomplete bladder emptying or even an inability to pass urine (retention). Again these complaints are sometimes attributed to ageing; and sometimes to prostate enlargement in men or pelvic floor muscle weakness in women.
Other early problems can include feeling stiff and slow in movement as well as changes in handwriting. Some people become clumsy or unsteady when walking .If blood pressure control has been affected then people may feel dizzy when standing up or experience episodes of fainting.
There are three groups of symptoms which reflect the three main regions of the brain that may be involved:
- the basal ganglia causing problems with movement (parkinsonism)
- the cerebellum causing poor balance and co-ordination
- the brain stem causing autonomic problems such as poor bladder and blood pressure control.
Basal ganglia causing problems with movement (parkinsonism)
Feeling slow and stiff when moving
Difficulty in starting to move
Writing becoming small and spidery
Difficulty turning in bed
The cerebellum causing poor balance and co-ordination
Feeling clumsy, dropping things
Finding it difficult to fasten buttons
Feeling unsteady in crowds
Unable to balance without support
Brain stem causing autonomic problems such as poor bladder and blood pressure control
For men, difficulty with erection
Feeling dizzy or fainting (blood pressure problems)
Pain around neck and shoulders (known as ‘coat hanger pain’)
Cold hands and feet
Problems with sweating control
Weakness of arms and legs
Poorly controlled emotional response, laughing or crying
Noisy breathing during the day, snoring at night
Weak, quiet voice
Swallowing problems, difficulty chewing, choking episodes
Eye muscle weakness which may cause blurred vision
Having a diagnosis of MSA does not mean you will experience all of these symptoms.
There is currently no specific treatment to prevent MSA from progressing (although clinical trials and research are being undertaken) but there are ways of assisting and alleviating symptoms. These include lifestyle adaptations, medications for specific symptoms and ensuring you get the support and advice from the professionals involved in your care. Remember the MSA Trust is here to help.
What happens next?
MSA is degenerative, which means that unfortunately symptoms are likely to worsen over a period of time. In due course the need to rely on others for help may arise. The speed of these changes is difficult to predict as people with MSA experience it differently and the rate of progression varies from person to person.
Some people feel they cope better if they know what lies ahead. Whilst MSA progression is very individual and unpredictable, you can discuss what might happen in the future with your specialist or our MSA Nurse Specialists.