What is Atony?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 22 October 2016
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Also known as atonia, atony is a condition in which a muscle or group of muscles within the body have lost the ability to expand and retract in a normal manner. In extreme situations, the muscles may exhibit a complete loss of strength or movement of any kind. A number of different health issues involve this loss of normal muscle tension, including ailments like gastrointestinal atony, uterine atony, and atonic seizures.

Some forms take place when there has been some type of trauma to the body. For example, a woman may experience uterine atony as the result of childbirth. In this situation, the myometrium fails to contract normally once the placenta has been delivered. When a Caesarian section is necessary, the trauma to the middle area of the body may also cause the muscles in and around the uterus to cease proper function for a period of time. With both situations, an unusual amount of bleeding may also take place as a result of the atonia.


A phenomenon known as gastrointestinal atony may occur after a surgical procedure. In this scenario, the muscles in the abdominal area fail to support the natural function of the intestines. The end result is that food does not pass through the digestive tract as it should. Depending on the severity of the muscle inactivity, it may be necessary to supply nutrients to the patient via an intravenous feed until the muscles in the area begin to recover from the effects of the surgery. Often, this condition is temporary and once the trauma has passed, the muscle groups in the area begin to perform properly once again.

Other underlying causes are commonly identified. Viral diseases and various types of infections, especially those that impair the function of the immune system, may cause muscle weakness and lack of response. Diseases such as diabetes can sometimes lead to this condition. Multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease and even psychological disorders like anorexia nervosa may be the reason for the atonia.

Often, the lack of muscle tension is accompanied with a sense of weakness in the muscles. Response to any type of stimulation is minimal at best, until the root cause for the condition is identified and treated. Since there are so many different causes for the condition other than obvious trauma, physicians sometimes must conduct extensive testing before it is possible to arrive at a diagnosis and implement some type of treatment.


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Post 3

@runner101 - I am not sure about the percentage of c-sections that result in a complication such as atony, but I am curious about the rising numbers of c-sections (for a while c-sections were thirty percent of all births).

With complications such as atony, why would someone decide to have a c-section (I understand many times c-sections are a must procedure, but sometimes people choose to have c-sections)?

Post 2

@amysamp - That is great to hear that your sister beat anorexia, especially considering I have seen statistics that say that 50% of anorexics continually have to anorexia throughout their life.

I am interested in the atony and after- pregnancy bleeding that can occur with a c-section.

I know quite a few people who have had a c-section but I have never heard of someone having any type of atony. So is it a low percentage of c-sections that end up with atony as a complication?

Post 1

This muscle disorder occurs within a range of diseases from diabetes to anorexia, yet I had never heard of it!

My sister had anorexia when she was in seventh grade. It was absolutely insane to watch someone become that thin, yet have no idea they are that thin. Later on in life she would find out she has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, which unsurprisingly people with anorexia often also have.

I was so proud of her as she battled and won against anorexia, and luckily she beat it before she had any difficulty with atony.

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