Recognizing MSA: Multiple System Atrophy

What is Multiple System Atrophy (MSA)?

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), MSA is a “progressive neurodegenerative disorder characterized by a combination of symptoms that affect both the autonomic nervous system (the part of the nervous system that controls involuntary action such as blood pressure or digestion) and movement. The symptoms reflect the progressive loss of function and death of different types of nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord.”

Symptoms may include:

  • Fainting spells
  • Problems with heart rate
  • Bladder control
  • Tremors
  • Loss of muscle coordination
  • Speech problems
  • Gait impairment
  • Rigidity

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Like many other neurodegenerative diseases, some symptoms of MSA can be treated with medications, but there is currently no cure or means of halting progression.

MSA vs. Parkinson’s Disease

While many symptoms can mimic those of Parkinson’s disease (PD), often making it difficult to distinguish a diagnosis in the early stages, MSA typically progresses much more rapidly than PD. Within a few years of initial symptoms, majority of MSA patients will require a cane or walker to aid in getting around.

Moving Towards a Cure

Researchers at Penn, and outside of Penn, continue to work vigorously for answers that will help benefit and improve the lives of those suffering from MSA.

“I would say that, although research in any rare disease is challenging, there have been advances in MSA, from the generation of animal models that are essential to understand the disease and develop new therapies, to several clinical trials that have already been completed in patients with this disorder,” explained Pedro Gonzales-Alegre, MD, PhD, associate professor of Neurology, Division of Movement Disorders at the University of Pennsylvania. “There are also efforts to develop better imaging biomarkers that will help us better diagnose MSA and monitor disease progression of the disease in clinical trials.”

In order to continue in this upward direction, raising awareness, knowledge, and advocacy becomes increasingly important. One of the key players in MSA awareness is CurePSP, a close partner of Penn Medicine. CurePSP is a nonprofit advocacy organization whose mission is to increase the public’s knowledge of prime of life diseases such as progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP), Corticobasal degeneration (CBD), and MSA. They define a prime of life disease as a condition that often strikes during a person’s most productive and rewarding years.

The video below, courtesy of CurePSP, shares the touching story of James Wark, MD, a child neurologist, who is now living with Multiple System Atrophy, and the struggles that he and his family have been faced with since his diagnosis.

 

Multiple System Atrophy Awareness Month

March is Multiple System Atrophy Awareness Month. Show your support on Facebook and Twitter with the banner and message below:

March is #MSAAwarenessMonth! Help spread the word and learn more about #MSA here: http://bit.ly/1LqYaTM

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