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atrophy (ătˈrəfē), diminution in the size of a cell, tissue, or organ from its fully developed normal size. Temporary atrophy may occur in muscles that are not used, as when a limb is encased in a plaster cast. Interference with cellular nutrition, as through starvation; diseases affecting the nerve supply of tissues, e.g., poliomyelitis and muscular dystrophy; and prolonged disuse may cause a permanent wasting away of tissue. Atrophy may also follow hypertrophy.
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



the decrease in the size of an organ or tissue of the living organism of animals and man, accompanied by a disorder or cessation of functions. Atrophy is the result of a predominance of dissimilation over the processes of assimilation.

Atrophy can be physiological and pathological, systemic and local. Physiological atrophy is a function of the growth changes of an organism (atrophy of the thymus during puberty, atrophy of the sex glands, skin, and bones in old people, and so on). General pathological atrophy (emaciation, cachexia) appears in cases of insufficient nutrition, chronic infection or intoxication, or disorders of the endocrine glands or of the central nervous system. Local pathological atrophy arises from various causes—from a disorder in the regulation of the trophic nerves (for example, atrophy of the skeletal muscles during poliomyelitis), from insufficient supply of blood (for example, atrophy of the brain cortex during atherosclerosis of the blood vessels of the brain); dysfunctional atrophy (for example, atrophy of the optic nerve after removal of an eye), as a result of pressure (for example, atrophy of the kidney in cases of embolism of the urether and accumulation of urine in the renal pelvis), from lack of use (for example, atrophy of the muscles in the extremities after long immobilization), or from the effects of physiological and chemical factors (for example, atrophy of the lymphoid tissue from the effects of solar energy, atrophy of the thyroid gland upon application of iodine preparations).

When an organ atrophies it diminishes in size but subsequently sometimes appears larger as a result of the expansion of fat tissue which replaces the atrophied cellular elements. Pathological atrophy is, up to a certain stage, a reversible process. Treatment consists of the elimination of the causes producing atrophy.


Strukov, A. I. Patologicheskaia anatomiia. Moscow, 1967.
Cameron, G. R. Pathology of the Cell. Edinburgh, 1952.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


Diminution in the size of a cell, tissue, or organ that was once fully developed and of normal size.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


a wasting away of an organ or part, or a failure to grow to normal size as the result of disease, faulty nutrition, etc.
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
References in periodicals archive ?
reported diagnosing CD on repeat biopsy in 4 out of 37 (10.8%) patients who had no villous atrophy in their initial biopsy a few years earlier.
Caption: FIGURE 2: Total villous atrophy, increased number of intraepithelial lymphocytes, and crypt hyperplasia; Hematoxylin & Eosin x100.
(Table 15) Even in those cases where malabsorption was present, jejunal biopsy showed abnormality in two cases, where one had parial villous atrophy and one had chronic nonspecific inflammatory changes.
Similarly to CD patients, RCDII patients were considered recovered, when villous atrophy was absent after therapy.
The first study tested patients newly diagnosed with celiac disease before and alter starting a gluten-free diet, patients with persistent small bowel villous atrophy despite a strict gluten-free diet, and patients reporting abdominal symptoms after eating cereal.
Celiac Disease (CD) is an immune response to inge- sted wheat gluten and related proteins of rye and barley that leads to inflammation, villous atrophy and intestinal crypt hyperplasia.1,2 CD was conside- red as a rare malabsorption syndrome in the previo- usly that can only occur in children, now it is a com- mon condition that may be diagnosed at any age.3
Deep duodenal biopsies, obtained at upper gastrointestinal endoscopy, are often used to confirm the diagnosis by demonstrating infiltration of the epithelium by lymphocytes and the presence of villous atrophy. It also requires the demonstration that gluten withdrawal from the diet will reverse or ameliorate the clinical symptoms.
"Our results demonstrate that metabolic alterations may precede the development of small intestinal villous atrophy and provide a further rationale for early institution of gluten-free diet in patients with potential celiac disease, as recently suggested by prospective clinical studies," concluded the scientists.
Thus, the biopsies in 13 (76.5%) of the 17 anti-tTG-seronegative patients revealed partial villous atrophy (Marsh type IIIa or IIIb) or non-pathologic histology (type 0), compared with 54.4% of seropositive individuals who had these findings.
Histologically, the enteropathy involves inflammatory infiltrates of lymphocytes and damage to the GI epithelial layer including villous atrophy and blunting, along with crypt hyperplasia [3,5,14].