The estimated average life expectancy of someone with multiple system atrophy is seven to ten years, states the American Academy of Neurology. Multiple system atrophy is a progressive, degenerative neurological disorder that affects parts of the brain that control balance, coordination and autonomic functions.
Multiple system atrophy is also known as Shy Drager syndrome. At one time, doctors thought it was an extreme form of Parkinson's disease, but now recognize it as a separate disorder. Doctors do not know what causes multiple system atrophy, the American Academy of Neurology explains. It is characterized by an accumulation of abnormal filaments and proteins in cells of the affected parts of the brain.
Symptoms of multiple system atrophy are due to autonomic dysfunction and include urinary incontinence, severe constipation and an inability to sweat. People with multiple system atrophy also have motor symptoms, such as decreased facial animation, clumsiness, stiffness, slow movements and decreased manual dexterity, says the American Academy of Neurology. Sleep disorders and difficulty speaking and swallowing are also common.
One of the most troubling symptoms of multiple system atrophy is orthostatic hypotension, a condition in which the blood pressure drops precipitously when the person stands up. This drop in blood pressure sometimes results in loss of consciousness, states the American Academy of Neurology. One way to reduce orthostatic hypotension is to increase salt consumption and fluid intake. Doctors also prescribe the drug minodrine, which constricts blood vessels and helps to maintain blood pressure.