Multiple system atrophy (MSA) is a rare but serious neurological disorder that can affect coordination, balance, speech, blood pressure and bladder and bowel function. Its symptoms often mimic those of Parkinson’s disease and ataxia. There is no cure, and many physicians are not familiar with the condition – meaning MSA is often misdiagnosed. However, symptoms can be managed, which is why it’s important to be evaluated and treated by physicians who have experience dealing with MSA. The University of Michigan’s Movement Disorders program is home to neurological subspecialists who have extensive experience in the diagnosis, management and treatment of the disease. We see a high volume of MSA patients every year.
MSA affects approximately 3 out of every 100,000 people over the age of 50. There is no known cause of the disease. Symptoms can present in one of three ways, or any combination of the three:
- Parkinsonism, characterized by slow and stiff movement, soft speech, tremors, and frequent falls
- Cerebellar ataxia, characterized by irregular clumsy movements, trouble walking in straight lines, limb tremors and frequent falls
- Autonomic nervous system symptoms, such as bladder incontinence, drop in blood pressure when standing, fainting, and loss of sweating.
Since MSA symptoms overlap with that of Parkinson disease or cerebellar ataxia, our neurologists assess patients closely and run all necessary tests to ensure the correct diagnosis is made.
Because there is no cure for MSA, treatment is focused on improving symptoms and quality of life. Treatment often includes medications to help control symptoms. Patients experiencing drops in blood pressure also receive dietary counseling, which helps them better regulate their blood pressure. Sometimes medications are necessary for fainting episodes. We also work closely with urologists to treat patients who are experiencing urinary difficulties. Because a diagnosis can be life-changing, our patients also have access to U-M’s psychiatrists and counselors, who will help both the patient and family members cope with the disease.
The University of Michigan Atypical Parkinsonian Clinic was created in the summer of 2020 to promote up-to-date and comprehensive clinical care and access to research for those patients and families with diseases such as MSA.