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What Is Multiple System Atrophy?

Multiple system atrophy (MSA) is a rare neurological disorder. It causes nerve cells in parts of your brain to gradually decline. Over time, this damage affects your body’s involuntary processes. Involuntary processes are things like breathing, blood pressure, and digestion.  

 There are two types of MSA:

  • MSA-P. The P stands for “Parkinsonism.” MSA-P is the most common form of MSA.

  • MSA-C. The C stands for “Cerebellar.” MSA-C largely affects muscle coordination (ataxia)

What Causes Multiple System Atrophy?

The exact cause of MSA is unknown.

Multiple System Atrophy Symptoms

Symptoms of MSA typically start between the ages of 40 and 65. It affects men and women equally. MSA-P and MSA-C share some symptoms:

You may have a combination of both MSA-P and MSA-C symptoms. Symptoms that affect your body’s involuntary processes usually start first. It may be several years before symptoms affecting motor function begin.


Individuals with MSA-P have symptoms similar to Parkinson’s disease:


Individuals with MSA-C have symptoms that affect their muscle coordination:

  • Unsteady gait

  • Impaired movement

  • Falling

  • Slurred speech (dysarthria)

  • Involuntary eye movement

How is Multiple System Atrophy Diagnosed?

There is not a specific test to check for MSA. If your neurologist thinks you may have MSA, they may suggest several tests:

Find a Multiple System Atrophy Specialist

Multiple System Atrophy Treatment

There is no cure for multiple system atrophy. MSA treatment focuses on managing symptoms. A multispecialty care team approach is best because MSA symptoms vary.

Treatment needs will change as your MSA progresses. Palliative care can help both you and your caregivers.


There are several types of therapy that can help you manage your MSA:

  • Physical Therapy: It is important to work with a physical therapist. They will help you prevent falls and improve mobility. They will also teach you how to use a gait aid like a cane or walker if necessary.
  • Occupational Therapy: An occupational therapist will teach you tips on how to manage daily activities like eating or bathing.

  • Speech Therapy: Working with a speech therapist can help you with slurred speech or swallowing difficulties.

Lifestyle Changes

 Some symptoms of MSA can be treated with simple lifestyle changes:

  • Increase salt intake

  • Staying hydrated

  • Compression garments

  • Exercise

  • High fiber diet


Your neurologist will likely prescribe a medication to help you manage your symptoms. The type of medication you receive will depend on your particular symptoms.

Schedule an Appointment With our Neurologists

You'll need a referral from your primary care provider to see a neurologist in our Movement Disorders Clinic. Call 801-585-7575 to learn how to make an appointment with us.

Research & Clinical Trials

MSA is an active area of research. Studies focus on treatments that could change the course of the disease or target specific symptoms. Reach out to your neurologist about updates on new treatments and clinical trials.