Myasthenia gravis, or MG, is an autoimmune disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks its own nerve and muscle tissue. This can lead to episodes of pronounced weakness in the affected muscles. Although there is no cure for the disorder, individuals with MG are typically able to control their muscle weakness with treatment quite well and do not experience any life-threatening complications.
Since the weakness associated with myasthenia gravis dissipates with rest, it is generally not dangerous. However, in about 15% of cases, severe muscle weakness occurs in the throat or chest and causes trouble breathing. This is known as a myasthenic crisis and it is a medical emergency. In the event you experience trouble breathing, please seek medical assistance immediately.
A more typical symptom pattern for MG is for a particular muscle or group of muscles, often in the eyes or face, to experience increased weakness as it is used. Specific symptoms differ with which muscles are affected but can include:
- Drooping eyelids
- Double vision
- Impaired speech
- Difficulty eating, especially chewing
- Difficulty swallowing
- Arm or leg weakness
Often the weakness improves with rest, but the speed of onset and extent of the weakness itself worsens over time (months or years) without treatment.
Myasthenia gravis is caused by the patient’s immune system mistakenly attacking or blocking nerve receptor sites on muscles, making it increasingly difficult for the brain to communicate with affected muscles.
There is some evidence that an overdeveloped thymus gland—an organ that assists with immune function—is at least partially responsible for the development of MG. However, an enlarged or otherwise abnormal thymus gland is not found in all cases of myasthenia gravis.
Unlike other neurological disorders, MG does not have a genetic component. It can affect anybody of any age but tends to be first exhibited by women and men at different life stages. Women under 40 and men over 60 are most at risk for the onset of myasthenia gravis.
How is myasthenia gravis diagnosed and treated?
Myasthenia gravis is diagnosed based on the symptoms reported to your doctor along with in-office physical and neurological examinations. Your doctor may request additional tests, such as:
- Blood tests, to check for the presence of antibodies that accompany an autoimmune reaction
- Imaging tests, to check for an abnormal thymus gland
- Electrodiagnostic testing, which can be used to assess communication between your nerves and muscles
Upon diagnosis, your doctor will work with you to determine the best course of treatment for your symptoms and circumstances. Potential treatment methods include:
- Medication. Medications commonly prescribed for myasthenia gravis usually work in one of two ways: by aiding communication between nerves and muscles or by suppressing overactive immune responses.
- Surgical removal of the thymus gland
- Plasmapheresis. This is a dialysis-like treatment in which a machine removes the proteins responsible for attacking the neuromuscular juncture from your blood.
Why Choose NGPG?
NGPG Neuroscience employs several board-certified neurologists, neurosurgeons, neurointerventional surgeons, neuropsychiatrists and other specialists who provide high-quality care and up-to-date treatments through our two outpatient Neurology office locations. For imaging and surgical care, we partner with the Northeast Georgia Medical Center’s expert neurosciences team and state-of-the-art facilities, ensuring our patients’ access to all of the services of a leading hospital alongside our excellent outpatient care.
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