Atrophy is a reduction of a tissue or organ. The cells of the affected area lose volume and mass. This can have both physiological and pathological causes.

What is an atrophy?

The symptoms and complains of atrophy depend on the organ involved. Muscular atrophy is characterized by a reduction of one of the extremities.
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Atrophy is a tissue wasting caused by a decrease in cells in tissues and organs. This leads to a partial or complete reduction of the affected tissue or organ. This is possible through apoptosis, ie programmed cell death.

The actual shape of the affected area may be preserved or altered during atrophy. Causes of atrophy may include poor nutrition, mutations, poor circulation, greatly reduced nerve supply, muscle disuse, or excessive cell death. Atrophy can be physiological and pathological, affecting the entire system or limited.

Physiologically, this occurs in the human growth process and allows the necessary changes in the organisms. Unlike pathological atrophy, this tissue loss is required and an important function of growth. To a certain extent, pathological tissue reduction is reversible, ie reversible to normal size.


Atrophy has many different causes, which can be both physiological and pathological. The pathological form arises from an imbalance between structure and degradation of the structure. The age atrophy has genetic causes and the moment of arrival depends on the age of the patient and the organ disposition.

Some organs have met their benefits early and are being mined early. This atrophy is called involution. The thymus is atrophied after acquiring sexual maturity and replaced by adipose tissue. The bone marrow also changes in the course of life. In childhood there is blood-forming parenchyma in the entire medullary cavity, ie red medulla. With age, the red marrow atrophies in most places and is also replaced by fatty tissue.

The tissue loss in the ovaries initiates the menopause in the female sex. The production of sperm in men is also reduced, but remains partially preserved. The hunger atrophy causes a reduction in the general fatty tissue, skeletal and cardiac musculature and internal organs. In this case, the atrophy allows for energy during a greatly reduced food intake. An unused muscle also atrophies, which is predominantly the case in bedridden elderly patients.

This is called inactivity atrophy. A strong reduction of blood and nerve supply can also lead to cell death after some time and is called energy deficiency atrophy. Pressure atrophy is due to chronic pressure on organs, or bones. In the brain, with age, certain forms of atrophy can develop and, through structural breakdown, cause diseases such as Parkinson's, dementia, and Alzheimer's disease.

Symptoms, signs & discomfort

The symptoms and complains of atrophy depend on the organ involved. Muscular atrophy is characterized by a reduction of one of the extremities. This causes difficulty walking and maintaining balance. The affected area is dizzy, swollen and tingling. The face is weakened and there are difficulties in eating and speaking. The patient feels fatigue throughout the body.

In the worst case, the muscle is paralyzed. Atrophy of the ovaries initiates the menopause. First symptoms of these are sleep disturbances, cycle fluctuations and mood swings. The estrogen hormones sink and the stress hormones increase. Many women complain of a feeling of tightness and pulling in the chest just before the menstrual period.

Finally, the menstrual period is completely gone. An organ atrophy leads to a loss or diminution of the function of these. In optic atrophy, the optic nerve is severely damaged. This causes a reduction in vision or even blindness.

Diagnosis & History

Since atrophy can affect any tissue and organ, the diagnosis and course of the disease are different. A reduction in cell number and size can be determined microscopically. To a certain extent, the atrophy is reversible.


In pathological atrophy, an imbalance between the structure and degradation of the cell structures occurs, which leads to various complications and health disorders. This reduction in cell number and cell size can affect any organ in the body. Uncomplicated is the atrophy of the ovaries, which announces the menopause with symptoms such as sleep disturbances, tension in the breasts and mood swings, until the menstrual period finally stops altogether.

Men often suffer from an atrophy of the testes. On the other hand, brain atrophy is complicated and can not be cured, but can only be slowed down by individual therapeutic approaches. As a result, dementia, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's can occur. Muscular atrophy leads in the worst case to movement and coordination difficulties.

The affected muscle areas show signs of paralysis and sensory disturbances, food intake and speaking are difficult and the patient feels fatigued. Depending on the severity of complications, muscle atrophy can be treated with exercise therapy and circulation-enhancing medications. Age atrophy is a genetic tissue degradation that depends on the age and organ disposition of the patient.

As humans grow, some organ and cell structures have prematurely fulfilled their usefulness. Therefore, premature atrophy, called involution, occurs. The degraded structures are replaced by fatty tissue. The bone marrow is affected by this genetic process with increasing age. Since age atrophy is a natural process, treatment is not necessary.

When should you go to the doctor?

If you suspect an atrophy, you should speak to the family doctor in a timely manner. Depending on the nature and severity of atrophy, various warning signs indicate a severe course. If you have difficulty walking and maintaining balance, you may have muscular atrophy. A doctor must be consulted immediately. The physician can determine the atrophy on the basis of a microscopic examination and, if necessary, initiate a treatment directly.

The visit to the doctor is particularly urgent if swelling and pain are added to the symptoms mentioned or if the affected area suddenly becomes numb or very sensitive to touch. At the latest, when difficulties in eating and speaking as well as general signs of fatigue are added, a muscle atrophy must be taken to the doctor.

If an ovarian atrophy is suspected, a visit to the gynecologist is recommended. Typical symptoms such as sleep disorders, mood swings and menstrual cramps should also be clarified independently of atrophy. A reduction in vision or even blindness indicates optic atrophy, which must be treated promptly.

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Treatment & Therapy

Not every atrophy can be treated. In some cases this can only be slowed down as in the case of brain atrophy. Depending on the form and cause of the atrophy, further tissue breakdown must be prevented and the metabolism stimulated. In order to prevent further muscle and joint loss, the affected area must be treated physiotherapeutically.

This is helped by exercise therapy, storage and cooling. In the drug therapy painkillers can be used or blood promoting medicines. Often, decreased blood flow is the cause of atrophy. If orthostatic hypotension is the cause of circulatory depletion, support stockings and increased water-salt delivery may be effective.

Parkinson's disease can be treated with dopaminergics that inhibit dopamine degradation. In this case, the progression of the disease is slowed down. A cure is not possible so far. In starvation atrophy, many parts of the body are usually affected. In this case, a lengthy therapy is imminent. The food intake must be increased and the metabolic balance restored.

Outlook & Forecast

The prognosis of atrophy is individual and depends on the underlying cause. Overall, however, they are considered less favorable. In the worst case, the progress of tissue loss can not be stopped with the current medical possibilities.

He advances inexorably until the tissue has completely disappeared. This depends on the affected area and the damaged tissue. Sequelae and other impairments to lifestyle occur.

For some types of disease, the goal of the treatment is to delay the progression of tissue loss for as long as possible. In parallel, therapies are offered with targeted training to maintain certain physical function options. In a drug treatment targeted side effects and additional complaints of the disease are alleviated to improve the quality of life of the person affected.

With a cure or complete recovery atrophy is not to be expected. Currently there are not enough scientific and medical opportunities to cure the causes of atrophy. If a therapy is rejected in principle, the state of health worsens gradually.

Complaints increase and decrease the general well-being immensely. Often, coping with everyday life is no longer possible without help. With a medical care, the patient can be guaranteed an extension of life, since the degradation process of the tissue is affected.


Genetically fixed atrophy can not be prevented. In the physiological form, this is not necessary. The pathological atrophy can be prevented by regular exercise, a healthy diet and the avoidance of toxic substances and hormones. In bedridden patients physiotherapeutic measures are essential. In addition, a balanced diet allows a fair supply of energy to all organs.


Atrophy involves the downsizing of a tissue or organ. Often you can not cure this disease. Especially with genetic causes, there is an unfavorable prognosis. The aftercare can therefore not aim to prevent a new disease. Rather, it is about supporting the patient in everyday life and stopping complications.

It is important to slow the progression. Doctors usually prescribe physiotherapy. They stimulate the metabolism and inhibit by appropriate exercises the degradation in certain body regions. But also drugs, depending on the cause, prevent the progression of the disease. The ultimate goal is to stop the tissue decline.

In an advanced stage, sufferers often need help in everyday life. A professional practice is hardly given. Complications occur especially when therapies are not used. Atrophy brings with it a regular presentation at the doctor. Patients can become active themselves to stop non-genetic atrophy.

Important are preventive measures such as a regular exercise and varied diet. Alcohol and nicotine are to be avoided. The body does not build up immunity after a single infection. A mostly hereditary disease is possible on different parts of the body.

You can do that yourself

Since atrophy can have many causes that include the lifestyle of the person affected or even pathological causes, the measures for self-help are only partially effective. Thus, there are no noteworthy ways that sufferers of genetic atrophy can seize. Even in the case of very advanced atrophy, in which much tissue has already been lost, the measures are limited to slowing down the degradation of the remaining tissue.

However, atrophy is often still slowing down or even reversing when sufferers adjust their diet. The nutrient supply must be significantly increased, whereby the metabolism must be activated in such a way that it works efficiently. So a balanced diet needs to be put together, which at the same time brings more nutrients (and calories) than needed.

A lack of blood circulation can also promote atrophy. This is where massages, exercise and the avoidance of substances that damage the vessels help. These include alcohol and trans fats. Light sport should be accelerated, taking care to protect the joints and muscles. Lesser used muscles and joints that are particularly affected by atrophy should still be moved and massaged, which means continuing with physiotherapy by the sufferer himself.

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