Myasthenia Gravis

The sudden onset of double vision, drooping eyelids, difficulty communicating and trouble walking can be frightening, but there are multiple effective treatments for myasthenia gravis.

A complex problem with straightforward solutions.

Unsettling Symptoms

Though myasthenia gravis can strike at any age, it tends to begin affecting women between 20 and 30, while onset usually doesn’t start in men until after 50. It’s a chronic, complex autoimmune disorder in which antibodies destroy the neuromuscular connections in your body, causing problems with communication between nerves and muscle. This affects the voluntary muscles in your body, especially your eyes, mouth, throat, and limbs.

Good News

Myasthenia gravis can cause double vision, drooping eyelids, difficulty communicating and trouble walking – and the onset can be sudden. These can all be frightening things to experience, but there is good news. Multiple effective treatments exist for myasthenia gravis. Together with INTEGRIS Health physicians, neuroscientists and experts, we’ll do all we can to treat the disease, the symptoms and get you back to a normal, happy life.

Understanding Myasthenia Gravis

The following are the most common symptoms for myasthenia gravis. However, you may experience symptoms differently – and these symptoms may resemble other conditions or medical problems, so it’s always best to talk with your doctor. myasthenia gravis symptoms include:

  • Visual problems, including drooping eyelids and double vision.
  • Severe muscle weakness and fatigue that may vary rapidly in intensity over days or even hours and worsen as muscles are used
  • Facial muscle involvement causing a mask-like appearance – a smile may appear more like a snarl
  • Difficulty in swallowing and/or pronouncing words
  • Weakness of the neck and/or limbs

The diagnosis of myasthenia gravis is made after the sudden or gradual onset of specific symptoms and after diagnostic testing. One common way to diagnose myasthenia gravis is to test how you respond to certain medications. Muscle weakness often dramatically improves for a brief time when a person with myasthenia gravis is given an anticholinesterase medication. If you respond to the medication, it confirms myasthenia gravis.

Other diagnostic tests that may help confirm the diagnosis include:

  • Blood Tests: These tests look for antibodies that may be present in people with myasthenia gravis.
  • Genetic Tests: Diagnostic tests that evaluate for conditions that have a tendency to run in families.
  • Electromyogram (EMG): A test that measures the electrical activity of a muscle or a group of muscles. An EMG can detect abnormal electrical muscle activity due to diseases and neuromuscular conditions.

There is no cure for myasthenia gravis, but the symptoms can generally be controlled. Myasthenia gravis is a lifelong medical condition and the key to medically managing it is early detection. The goal of treatment is to increase muscle function and prevent swallowing and breathing problems. Most people with this condition can improve their muscle strength and lead normal or near normal lives. In more severe cases, respiratory or nutritional support may be needed.

Specific treatment for myasthenia gravis will be determined by your doctor based on your age, overall health, medical history, the extent of the disease and your tolerance for specific medications, procedures or therapies. Of course, your personal opinions and preferences will also be taken into consideration. Treatment may include:

  • Medications: Anticholinesterase medications, such as Prostigmin or Tensilon, steroids and/or immunosuppressive medications may be used.
  • Thymectomy: This involves surgical removal of the thymus gland. The role of the thymus gland in myasthenia gravis is not fully understood, and the thymectomy may or may not improve symptoms. However, thymectomy reduces symptoms in more than 70% of people who do not have cancer of the thymus, possibly by altering the immune system response.
  • Plasmapheresis: A procedure that removes abnormal antibodies from the blood and replaces the blood with normal antibodies through donated blood.
  • Immunoglobulin: A blood product that helps to decrease the immune system’s attack on the nervous system, given intravenously (IV).

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