Myasthenia Gravis: Symptoms, Treatment

Overview

Myasthenia gravis (MG) is a long-term neuromuscular disease that leads to skeletical muscle weakness. As it is caused by the failure of communication between nerves and muscles, it will possibly contribute to double vision, drooping eyelids, hard breathing, walking difficulty and so forth.

Moreover, this disease occurs most often among young females and old males. There is still no absolute cure for MG though some measures can be done to relieve it.

Causes

Briefly, MG is a neuromuscular disorder and it is caused by the autoimmune reaction. Here are some major causes:

  • Antibodies

Generally, the muscles receive signals from the neurotransmitters released by nerves. But in MG the antibodies produced by the immune system mistakenly block the way of normal communication between nerves and muscles. For this reason, the muscle cells are kept in relaxation.

  • Thymus gland

Accordingly, the thymus gland, which is part of the immune system, can trigger or maintain the production of wrong-targeting antibodies. These antibodies will attack the cells that are naturally within the body.

Symptoms

Muscle weakness is the most significant symptom of MG. And the more one uses his or her affected muscles, the worse it will be. This condition will normally turn worse within a few years since the onset of the disease. Here are some common symptoms:

  • Drooping eyelids & double vision

More than half of the people who have MG suffer from drooping eyelids and double vision.

  • Facial paralysis

Some people will find their facial expressions changed or even twisted.

  • Breathing, talking, swallowing and chewing difficulty

About 15% of people who have MG find their sounds softened or nasal. Also, it is possible to have difficulty swallowing as well as chewing.

  • Inadequate strength

Besides, it is possible that patients become inadequate to lift up their heads or arms, and their walking postures turn abnormal.

Complications

Possible complications accompanying MG include:

  • Myasthenic crisis

This means the breath-related muscles become weakened and thus jeopardize the life. An emergency treatment like medication or blood-filtering is quite needed in this case.

  • Thymus gland tumors

Some people who have MG will develop thymus gland tumors, but these tumors are normally not cancerous.

  • Other disorders

Other disorders such as an underactive or overactive thyroid, autoimmune conditions and so forth can occur.

Diagnosis

If there are problems mentioned above, you should consult a doctor. Diagnosis may begin with questions about the patients’ symptoms. And then the doctor may perform a neurological exam to check the followings:

  • the reflexes, a quick test to check the function of spinal cord
  • the muscle weakness
  • the muscle tone, the body’s ability to balance and perform well in sports
  • the proper movement of eyes
  • the sensation in different areas of the body
  • the motor functions, namely the ability to perform a precise act

Other tests may also be included as an assistance:

Treatment

As there is no absolute cure for MG, the doctors can only give treatment to relieve some symptoms:

  • Medication

To minimize abnormal immune response, corticosteroids and immunosuppressants will be used to suppress the activity of immune system. Besides, to increase the communication between nerves and muscles, cholinesterase inhibitors that block the working of peripheral nervous systems as well as the central nervous system such as pyridostigmine will also be used for symptom alleviation.

  • Thymus gland removal

A research shows about 10-15% of people with MG have a tumor in their thymus. In practice, the removal of the tumor proves to be a great help to lessen muscle weakness.

  • Plasma exchange

Plasma exchange is to rid the blood of harmful antibodies. However, it is a short-term treatment and governs only the symptoms.

  • Intravenous immune globulin (IVIG)

IVIG can affect antibodies in production and function.

Keywords: myasthenia gravis.

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* The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.