General features of Multiple System Atrophy

Richard A. Armstrong

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Multiple system atrophy (MSA) is a rare movement disorder and a member of a group of neurodegenerative diseases referred to collectively as the ‘parkinsonian syndromes’. Characteristic of these syndromes is that the patient exhibits symptoms of ‘parkinsonism’, viz., a range of problems involving movement, most typically manifest in Parkinson’s disease (PD) itself1, but also seen in progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP), and to some extent in dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB). MSA is a relatively ‘new’ descriptive term and is derived from three previously described diseases, viz., olivopontocerebellar atrophy, striato-nigral degeneration, and Shy-Drager syndrome. The classical symptoms of MSA include parkinsonism, ataxia, and autonomic dysfunction.6 Ataxia describes a gross lack of coordination of muscle movements while autonomic dysfunction involves a variety of systems that regulate unconscious bodily functions such as heart rate, blood pressure, bladder function, and digestion. Although primarily a neurological disorder, patients with MSA may also develop visual signs and symptoms that could be useful in differential diagnosis. The most important visual signs may include oculomotor dysfunction and problems in pupil reactivity but are less likely to involve aspects of primary vision such as visual acuity, colour vision, and visual fields. In addition, the eye-care practitioner can contribute to the management of the visual problems of MSA and therefore, help to improve quality of life of the patient. Hence, this first article in a two-part series describes the general features of MSA including its prevalence, signs and symptoms, diagnosis, pathology, and possible causes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)40-43
Number of pages4
JournalOptometry Today
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 11 Mar 2011


  • multiple system atrophy
  • movement disorder
  • neurodegenerative disease
  • parkinsonian syndromes
  • parkinsonism
  • progressive supranuclear palsy
  • dementia
  • Lewy bodies
  • olivopontocerebellar atrophy
  • striato-nigral degeneration
  • Shy-Drager syndrome
  • ataxia
  • autonomic dysfunction
  • coordination
  • muscle movements
  • bodily functions
  • heart rate
  • blood pressure
  • bladder function
  • digestion
  • visual symptoms
  • oculomotor dysfunction
  • pupil reactivity
  • primary vision
  • visual acuity
  • colour vision
  • visual fields


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