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.
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.