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What Is Atrophy?

Astronauts must exercise while in space to prevent the bones and muscles from atrophying.
Long-term malnutrition can lead to muscle atrophy and "body wasting syndrome."
Alzheimer's disease is a type of focal cerebral atrophy.
Individuals disabled with a spinal cord injury may experience atrophy of muscles that no longer receive signals from nerves.
Cerebral palsy is one of the most common causes of muscle atrophy in children.
The brain can atrophy.
Individuals suffering from degenerative muscle diseases may experience problems with walking.
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  • Last Modified Date: 07 November 2014
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Atrophy is a degeneration of either all or one part of the body, and is often referred to as "wasting." It can occur for many reasons, but the two main causes are disuse and disease. There are multiple forms of atrophic disorders but, according to the Mayo Clinic, the two most prominent are multiple system atrophy (also called MSA) and vaginal atrophy.

MSA is a genetic disorder and degenerative disease that causes the body to function improperly. This disease can cause muscles to become rigid and slows down an individual's movement. There is currently no cure for this condition, and many people who experience MSA can die as it progresses.

Vaginal atrophy normally occurs in older women who have finished their menopausal stage. During this problem, the vaginal walls begin to thin due to a drop in estrogen production. This can result in painful sex and vaginal bleeding. Fortunately, women who experience this disorder can consult a medical professional for estrogen treatments to decrease atrophic symptoms.

Two groups of people who are at particularly high risk for such symptoms are those who are sedentary and the elderly. This problem in the elderly is due to the body naturally degenerating, and as a person ages, their blood flow decreases and this reduction can cause the individual to lose muscle tone. The body eventually becomes weaker which leads to wasting.

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People with sedentary jobs can also develop atrophy. For example, astronauts often suffer from mild atrophic symptoms due to the gravitational difference that causes weightlessness. Fortunately, wasting that has occurred under sedentary circumstances can be decreased and even reversed with strenuous exercise. Better nutrition can also reduce the effects of wasting.

Wasting not only occurs in the muscle, but can also affect the organs of the body. Cerebral atrophy is a common form of degeneration that begins when brain cells and brain tissue begin to waste away. This degeneration can lead to speech problems, vision impairment and eventually dementia. One cause is malnutrition, which can be fixed by proper nutrition and hydration.

Researchers are currently studying various medications that can be used to slow down the process of atrophy. Medical experts believe that manipulating a protein in the muscle may prevent it from wasting away and help bedridden patients retain some strength. Currently, there is no single cure for this condition, but there are prevention methods.

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anon961399
Post 8

I read in a magazine many years ago that an overdose of protein causes Alzheimer's. So I cut out cheese from my diet. and tell my descendants, since we do not know how much is too much to use common sense. I am now 60. We are still paying attention.

StarJo
Post 5

I think of my anorexic friend whenever I hear the word “atrophy.” She lost so much weight after getting the disorder that she is basically skin and bones now. There seems to be almost no muscle left in her body.

She is currently undergoing atrophy treatment, and she will soon receive psychological counseling. She is in a hospital, hooked up to an IV bag full of nutrients and vitamins right now, because she almost died from malnutrition.

As soon as she gets healthy enough, she will visit with a physical therapist to help her regain her muscle. Thankfully, this condition isn't irreversible.

kylee07drg
Post 4

My grandmother had brain atrophy, and it was causing her to act senile. She had started forgetting things, but we didn't think much about that. This seemed fairly normal for an elderly woman.

However, when she started forgetting how to tie her shoes and what our names were, we forced her to go to the doctor. Something just didn't seem right about her. She just seemed confused all the time.

The doctor diagnosed her with Alzheimer's. This devastated the family, because we know there is no cure for it. I wish that one could be found during her lifetime, but I don't know how much longer that will last.

Oceana
Post 3

@orangey03 – I know how that looks, and it is very sad. My grandfather showed atrophy symptoms after being bedridden for months, and it was hard to look at him.

His arms and legs had become very slender. He was once a fairly muscular guy, so that made it even more tragic. I tried not to look at his arms and legs, because it made me tear up.

He never regained his health, though, so he could not fight the atrophy. He died with legs and arms that had already wasted away so much.

orangey03
Post 2

My cousin had muscular atrophy in her legs after she was in a car accident and had to be in a wheelchair for months. It was a long time before she had recovered enough to benefit from physical therapy, so all that time without using her leg muscles caused them to start wasting away.

From the waist down, she looked like a starving person. You could see the bones in her legs, because there was hardly any muscle to cover them.

When she finally was able to start a slow exercise regimen with a therapist, she was so happy. She knew it would be a long road to recovery, but just knowing that her legs were on their way to looking normal again was enough for her.

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