Myasthenia gravis is a chronic, complex, autoimmune disorder in which the body attacks its own neuromuscular connections. This causes problems with communication between nerves and muscle, resulting in weakness. Myasthenia gravis affects the voluntary muscles of the body, especially the eyes, mouth, throat, and limbs.
In women, myasthenia gravis generally starts by age 20 to 30. In men, it usually starts after the age of 50. However, this condition can occur at any age. Males are more often affected than females.
Myasthenia gravis is not inherited and it is not contagious. It generally develops later in life when antibodies in the body attack normal receptors on muscle. This blocks a chemical needed to stimulate muscle contraction.
A temporary form of myasthenia gravis may develop in the fetus when a woman with myasthenia gravis passes the antibodies to the fetus. Generally, it resolves in 2 to 3 months.
These are the most common symptoms of myasthenia gravis:
The symptoms of myasthenia gravis may look like other conditions. Always see your doctor for a diagnosis.
Flare-ups and remissions (easing of symptoms) may occur now and then during the course of myasthenia gravis. Remissions, however, are only rarely permanent or complete.
Your doctor can diagnose myasthenia gravis based on your symptoms and certain tests. During the physical exam, your doctor will ask about your medical history and symptoms.
A common way to diagnose myasthenia gravis is to test how you respond to certain medicines. Muscle weakness often dramatically improves for a brief time when you are given an anticholinesterase medicine. If you respond to the medicine, it confirms myasthenia gravis.
Other tests that may be done include:
Specific treatment for myasthenia gravis will be determined by your healthcare provider based on:
There is no cure for myasthenia gravis, but the symptoms can often be controlled. Myasthenia gravis is a lifelong medical condition. Early detection is the key to managing the condition.
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, help may be needed for breathing and eating.
Treatment may include:
The most serious complications of myasthenia gravis is a myasthenia crisis. This is a condition of extreme muscle weakness, particularly of the diaphragm and chest muscles that support breathing. Breathing may become shallow or ineffective. The airway may become blocked because of weakened throat muscles and build up of secretions. Myasthenia crisis may be caused by a lack of medicine or by other factors, such as a respiratory infection, emotional stress, surgery, or some other type of stress. In severe crisis, a person may have to be placed on a ventilator to help with breathing until muscle strength returns with treatment.
Precautions, which may help to prevent or minimize the occurrence of myasthenia crisis include:
Tell your healthcare providers about your condition when any medicines are being prescribed. Certain medicines may interfere either with the disease or the action of the medicines you take for myasthenia gravis.
There is no cure for myasthenia gravis, but the symptoms can generally be controlled. Myasthenia gravis is a lifelong medical condition. Early detection is key to managing this condition.
The goal of treatment is to increase general muscle function and prevent swallowing and breathing problems. Most people with myasthenia gravis can improve their muscle strength and lead normal or near normal lives. In more severe cases, help may be needed with breathing and eating.
Call your doctor if any of these occur:
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:
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