March is Multiple System Atrophy Awareness Month

The month of March has been declared to be Multiple System Atrophy Awareness Month, thanks to a campaign headed by the MSA Coalition.

Multiple System Atrophy (MSA)

Multiple system atrophy (MSA) is a rare disorder that affects the autonomic system. Being a neurological disease, it impairs the motor, coordination, and balance centers in the brain. Additionally, blood pressure, heart rate, and digestion are not regulated. There are two types of MSA, identified based on the predominate symptoms: parkinsonian and cerebellar. MSA affects 2-5 people per 100,000, usually in adults aged 55 or older. On average, patients survive for about 10 years after symptoms appear.

Symptoms:

General MSA symptoms include:

  • Postural orthostatic hypotension
  • Bladder problems
  • Disrupted sleep
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Emotional disturbances

Parkinsonian MSA symptoms are:

  • Difficulty bending arms and legs
  • Tremors
  • Lack of balance
  • Difficult or slow movement

Cerebellar MSA symptoms are:

  • Difficulty moving and balancing
  • Slurred or slow speech
  • Visual impairment
  • Difficulty swallowing

Causes:

While MSA is associated with the shrinking of parts of the brain, the cause of MSA is unknown. It is possibly inherited or due to environmental factors, but there is no substantial evidence for either.

Diagnosis:

MSA can be challenging to diagnose because there is no simple blood test. Rather, a clinical diagnosis is used. Since it mimics many other diseases, such as Parkinson’s, it can be even more difficult to identify. Doctors may perform the following tests to help inform the diagnosis:

  • Tilt table tests
  • MRI or brain imaging scans
  • Physical exam
  • Medical history
  • Blood pressure measurement
  • Sweat exam
  • Bladder exam
  • Eye exam
  • Nerve exams

Treatment options:

MSA treatment aims to control symptoms, since there is no cure for the disease.

  • Blood pressure medications
  • Anti-Parkinson’s medication
  • Swallowing and breathing therapy
  • Bladder drugs
  • Pacemaker
  • Sexual dysfunction drugs

Importance of the Month

The disease is a fatal neurodegenerative disorder that affects nearly 2,000 people each year in the United States.  The entire month is dedicated to educating the world on the rare disease that is multiple system atrophy. By raising awareness, we can aid in getting earlier diagnoses, inspire policymakers to improve access to services for those diagnosed while also funding research for MSA, and help MSA patients and their families feel less alone in their fight.

Events This Month

The Multiple System Atrophy Coalition is holding numerous events during this month in order to help educate and spread awareness about MSA and MSA Awareness Month. One such event is the Live Q&A on MSA that is set to take place on March 24 from 3-4pm EST on Zoom. If you are interested, you can register for this event here.

About The MSA Coalition

The Multiple System Atrophy (MSA) Coalition™, founded in 1989, is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization (EIN: 74-2926378) devoted to improving the quality of life and building hope for people affected by MSA through a four-pillar mission:

  • Providing patients and caregivers with trusted and compassionate emotional support
  • Educating patients, care-partners, and healthcare professionals with credible, critically important and relevant information
  • Funding patient-centric collaborative research aimed at alleviating symptoms, slowing disease progression, and discovering a cure
  • Building a sense of community by connecting and unifying people affected by MSA

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