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

Definition of atrophy

 (Entry 1 of 2)

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


at·​ro·​phy | \ ˈa-trə-fē, -ˌfī \
atrophied; atrophying; atrophies

Definition of atrophy (Entry 2 of 2)

: to waste away (as from disease or disuse) : to undergo atrophy Extended periods of weightlessness resulted in body fluids pooling in the upper torso, causing changes in how the heart pumped blood. In addition, muscles began to atrophy, bones lost calcium and mass …— Warren E. Leary Because of an incomplete spine, only one nerve serviced her legs, causing them to atrophy.— Ada Brownell Communion with nature strengthens both body and soul; isolation from nature causes both to atrophy.— Mark Purcell also : to cause (something) to waste away or undergo atrophy When reform becomes too theological, it atrophies some forces even while it galvanizes others. — John C. Culver — see also atrophied

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Other Words from atrophy


atrophic \ (ˌ)ā-​ˈtrō-​fik \ adjective

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: Noun

And Jake, aged 12, who was told he couldn't audition for theater roles because of his spinal muscular atrophy. Abby Gardner, Glamour, "Meghan Markle and Prince Harry Had an Emotional Day Meeting Kids With Serious Health Needs," 4 Sep. 2018 And spinal muscular atrophy drug Spinraza, which Biogen launched last year, has performed admirably. Charley Grant, WSJ, "Caution Still Needed on Biogen Alzheimer’s Bounty," 26 July 2018 Type 3 is characterized by a specific type of brain atrophy, seen on an MRI, and generally strikes younger individuals with no family history of Alzheimer’s. Linda Marsa, Discover Magazine, "A New Treatment for Alzheimer's? It Starts With Lifestyle," 16 Nov. 2018 Diagnosed at around age 5 with optic nerve atrophy, an incurable and often progressive disease that damages the nerve connecting the eyes to the brain, Terri doesn’t just defy conventional images of blindness. Peg Rosen, Good Housekeeping, "Blindness Can't Stop Me from Living the Life I Want to Live," 14 Sep. 2018 According to the American College of Obstetrician Gynecologists, all women who are thinking about becoming pregnant or who are already pregnant are offered carrier screening for cystic fibrosis, hemoglobinopathies, and spinal muscular atrophy. Jennifer Gerson, Marie Claire, "I'm Having Trouble Getting Pregnant—Should I Undergo Genetic Testing?," 1 Oct. 2018 There is some data that suggest that CO2 lasers are helpful for vaginal atrophy. Korin Miller, SELF, "The FDA Wants to Remind You That It Has Not Approved Any Devices for 'Vaginal Rejuvenation'," 31 July 2018 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

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.

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First Known Use of atrophy


1601, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1863, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for atrophy


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

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Statistics for atrophy

Last Updated

14 Jan 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for atrophy

The first known use of atrophy was in 1601

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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

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Comments on atrophy

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someone who never drinks alcohol

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