by Jason Wasserman MD PhD FRCPC
May 26, 2022

What does atrophy mean?

Atrophy is a word pathologists use to describe a loss of tissue or a decrease in the size of an organ. Another word for atrophy is atrophic. This change can happen anywhere in the body. It is a description of the changes seen when the tissue is examined under the microscope. It is not a diagnosis.


What causes atrophy?

There are many causes of atrophy. The most common causes include:

  • Decreased blood supply – All organs and tissues require blood to survive. When the amount of blood to an organ or tissue decreases for a long period of time, the organ or tissue compensates by decreasing in size. Tissues surrounding a large tumour often undergo atrophy because the pressure of the tumour decreases blood flow.
  • Disuse – Organs or tissues that are not used regularly may decrease in size as a result of atrophy. This commonly happens to muscles that are not used after an injury. This type of atrophy can often be seen without the help of a microscope.
  • Decreased stimulation by hormones – Atrophy is commonly seen in organs that are stimulated by hormones such as the breast and the endometrium (the tissue that lines the inside of the uterus). The hormones that stimulate these organs decrease with age which leads to this change.

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