Multiple system atrophy is a rare condition leading to impaired neurological functions of the body characterized by a fall in blood pressure during standing, lightheadedness, fainting, impaired movement, abnormal speech and visual disturbance. It is a degenerative condition that usually affects older people, around 50 and 60 years. Men are more commonly affected in comparison to women. In most patients death usually occurs in 5 to 10 years after appearance of first symptom. Treatment options include drugs to stabilize blood pressure, swallowing or breathing problems and physical therapy to improve the quality of the life.
As the name suggests the disease leads to different symptoms involving different organs of the body. There are two main types of multiple system atrophy depending upon the presenting symptoms. The common types are :
Other symptoms common to all types of multiple system atrophy patients are fall in blood pressure during standing leading to dizziness, sudden blackouts and excessive rise in blood pressure during lying down. Some patients with multiple system atrophy may experience one or more of the following :
The rate at which symptoms develop and progress varies from person to person but the symptoms never improve. Common complications are respiratory problems, injury due to unsteady gait and repeated falls, patients gradually become immobile leading to appearance of stress ulcer, weakening and ultimately paralysis of the vocal cords leading to speech and breathing problem, progressive difficulty in swallowing and ultimately the patient becomes so much incapacitated that they even cannot perform simple day to day activities like brushing of teeth or bathing. Death usually occurs due to respiratory failure.
The exact cause of multiple system atrophy is not known but exposure to different environmental toxisn may play an important role. In multiple system atrophy the brain tissue gradually shrinks and becomes degenerated. This mainly affects the brainstem, cerebellum and the basal ganglia. Some researchers suggest that abnormal expression of the protein alpha-synuclein may be responsible for brain damage.
There is no cure for multiple system atrophy, however, aim of treatment is to relieve the symptoms as much as possible to improve quality of life.
Treatment options include drugs to :