Muscle Atrophy – Causes, Diagnosis, & Treatment
What is muscle atrophy?
Muscle atrophy refers to wasting or loss of muscle tissue. Muscle atrophy causes loss of strength or movement.
What causes muscle atrophy?
Inactivity or not using the muscles enough causes muscle wasting. This type of muscle wasting is called disuse atrophy. It mostly occurs in people who are inactive due either to seated jobs or health problems. This can happen to people, who cannot move their limbs because of a disease, stroke, or other brain disease. This type of atrophy can often be reversed with exercise and better nutrition.
Neurogenic diseases can also cause muscle atrophy. This is the most severe type of muscle atrophy. This type of muscle atrophy can happen due to an injury or disease to a nerve that connects to the muscle. Neurogenic muscle atrophy occurs more suddenly than disuse atrophy.
The following diseases can affect the nerves that control muscles:
- Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or Lou Gehrig disease
- Damage of a single nerve like carpal tunnel syndrome
- Nerve damage caused by injury, diabetes, toxins, or alcohol
- Guillain-Barre syndrome
- Injury to spinal cord
The following are the other causes of muscle atrophy:
- Muscular dystrophy and other diseases of the muscle
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Chronic corticosteroid therapy
How is muscle atrophy diagnosed?
The doctor will perform a physical examination and review your medical history. He/she will also review symptoms and ask you questions about when did the muscle atrophy begin, is it getting worse progressively, and what other symptoms do you have?
A doctor can often recognize muscle atrophy by comparing one hand, arm, or leg to the other. He/she will look at your arms and legs and measure muscle size to find out which nerves are affected.
The doctor may order some or more of the following tests for diagnosis:
- CT scan
- MRI scan
- Electromyography (EMG)
- Nerve conduction study
- Muscle or nerve biopsy
- Blood tests
How is muscle atrophy treated?
Treatment of muscle atrophy includes exercise, physical therapy, ultrasound therapy, and surgery in some cases.Anabolic steroids may also be used to promote muscle growth in cases of severe muscle atrophy.
Doctors generally treat disuse atrophy with appropriate exercise program and nutrition. Physical rehabilitation may also be recommended depending on severity.
This feature is for informational purposes only and is not intended to substitute the expert guidance of a doctor. We advise seeing a doctor if you have any health concerns.