at·​ro·​phy | \ˈa-trə-fē \
plural atrophies

Definition of atrophy 

1 : decrease in size or wasting away of a body part or tissue atrophy of muscles also : arrested development or loss of a part or organ incidental to the normal development or life of an animal or plant

2 : a wasting away or progressive decline It was not a solitude of atrophy, of negation, but of perpetual flowering.— Willa Cather an atrophy of imagination

Keep scrolling for more

Other Words from atrophy

atrophic \ (ˌ)ā-​ˈtrō-​fik \ adjective
atrophy \ ˈa-​trə-​fē , -​ˌfī \ verb
muscles atrophying from lack of use Communion with nature strengthens both body and soul; isolation from nature causes both to atrophy. — Mark Purcell

What Can atrophy?

From its literal Greek roots, atrophy would mean basically "lack of nourishment". Although the English word doesn't usually imply any lack of food, it always refers to a wasting away. Those who have been bedridden for a period of time will notice that their muscles have atrophied. And muscular atrophy is a frequent result of such diseases as cancer and AIDS. We also use atrophy in a much more general sense. After being out of work a few years, you may find your work skills have atrophied; someone who's been living an isolated life may discover the same thing about his or her social skills; and a democracy can atrophy when its citizens cease to pay attention to how they're being governed.

Examples of atrophy in a Sentence

The doctor is concerned about possible atrophy of the shoulder muscles.

Recent Examples on the Web

Jayden suffers from spinal muscular atrophy, a genetic disease that affects the part of the nervous system that controls voluntary muscle movement. Mari A. Schaefer,, "Second family challenges CHOP decision to remove child from life support," 16 May 2018 Overly exfoliated skin atrophies, according to Dr. Alexiades. Crystal Martin, New York Times, "Exfoliation Tips for the Best Skin Ever," 25 June 2018 Spinraza, Biogen’s spinal muscular atrophy drug, normally costs $750,000 the first year, and then $375,000 every year after that. Eric Boodman, STAT, "Sign up for our biotech newsletter, The Readout," 8 May 2018 At 6 months old, Stevie Browning was diagnosed with type 1 spinal muscular atrophy — the most severe — and was predicted to live between eight months and two years, said his mother, Samantha Angell. Tessa Weinberg,, "Northwestern students give 'freedom' by retrofitting motorized cars for kids with disabilities," 1 July 2018 Kevan was born with something called spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), a genetic disease affecting the part of the nervous system that controls voluntary muscle movement. Shari Puterman, USA TODAY, "Kevan can't walk - so his friends carried him through Europe," 1 June 2018 Severe alcoholism can cause a host of associated ailments, ranging from liver cirrhosis to brain atrophy and seizures, Dickie said. Anchorage Daily News, "An endless loop: Homeless, alcoholic and dependent on Anchorage’s fraying and expensive safety net," 20 Jan. 2016 Born in Japan with full vision, Ms. Hashimoto trained as a classical ballet dancer into her teenage years, when her sight began deteriorating because of optic nerve atrophy. Serena Solomon, New York Times, "How to Convey Dance to Those Without Sight? All Hands On," 17 May 2018 Spinal muscular atrophy, a disorder affecting nerves that control muscles, is the leading genetic cause of death for infants. Robert Moy, STAT, "Delays in adding new newborn screening tests harm babies, families," 30 Apr. 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'atrophy.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

See More

First Known Use of atrophy

1601, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for atrophy

Late Latin atrophia, from Greek, from atrophos ill fed, from a- + trephein to nourish

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about atrophy

Dictionary Entries near atrophy

à trois







Statistics for atrophy

Last Updated

26 Sep 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for atrophy

The first known use of atrophy was in 1601

See more words from the same year

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for atrophy



English Language Learners Definition of atrophy

medical : gradual loss of muscle or flesh usually because of disease or lack of use


at·​ro·​phy | \ˈa-trə-fē \
plural atrophies

Medical Definition of atrophy 

(Entry 1 of 2)

: decrease in size or wasting away of a body part or tissue also : arrested development or loss of a part or organ incidental to the normal development or life of an animal or plant


\ˈa-trə-fē, -ˌfī \
atrophied; atrophying

Medical Definition of atrophy (Entry 2 of 2)

intransitive verb

: to undergo atrophy the inactive muscles atrophied

transitive verb

: to cause to undergo atrophy disuse atrophied the arm

Keep scrolling for more

Comments on atrophy

What made you want to look up atrophy? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


a trusted follower

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Difficult Vocab Quiz

  • the-education-of-achilles-eugne-delacroix
  • Which is a synonym of discomfit?
True or False

Test your knowledge - and maybe learn something along the way.


Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.


Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!