What is myasthenia gravis?

Myasthenia gravis: Overview

Myasthenia gravis (say "MI-ess-thin-e-a GRAH-viss") is muscle weakness that often gets better when you rest and gets worse with activity. You can start the day feeling strong, but after a little activity, you find yourself feeling weak. It may be hard to talk or to keep your eyes focused, and your eyelids may droop.

This problem starts when the immune system attacks the body's own muscle cells. The immune system is supposed to fight off viruses and other germs, but sometimes it turns on the person's own body. (This is called autoimmune disease.) Myasthenia gravis most often affects the muscles that control eye and facial movement and those that help us chew and swallow.

Your doctor may prescribe medicine that can help improve your muscle weakness. The doctor may recommend that you have surgery to remove the thymus gland, which may improve your immune system problem and help you regain your strength. There are other treatments that can help if you have repeated periods of weakness. Some people have periods of time with mild or no symptoms. This is called remission.

Myasthenia gravis

Myasthenia gravis is a rare chronic disorder that causes weakness and rapid fatigue of muscles. The muscle weakness develops slowly, first affecting the facial muscles and causing symptoms that include drooping eyelids, double vision, and difficulty talking, chewing, or swallowing.

The exact cause of myasthenia gravis is not known. But it is known that the antibodies formed by the body's immune system to fight infection instead attack normal muscle tissue. Myasthenia gravis can occur at any age in both women and men.

Treatment for myasthenia gravis includes medicine to help reduce and improve muscle weakness. Surgery to remove the thymus gland may be helpful in some cases.

How is myasthenia gravis treated?

Your doctor may prescribe medicine that can help improve your muscle strength. The doctor may suggest surgery to remove the thymus gland. This may lessen the immune system's attacks on your muscle cells and help you regain your strength. Your doctor may suggest other treatments to help manage your symptoms when they flare up.

How can you care for yourself when you have myasthenia gravis?

  • Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor if you think you are having a problem with your medicine.
  • Some medicines can make your myesthenia gravis symptoms worse. If your symptoms get worse after you start a new medicine, tell your doctor.
  • Make sure you are up to date on your vaccines. Ask your doctor which ones you need.
  • If you have trouble swallowing your medicine, talk to your doctor about other ways to take it.
  • Get plenty of rest. Plan your activities so that you have rest periods. It is better to go at a moderate pace with frequent rests than to be so active that you tire out easily.
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet.
  • If you get double vision, talk to your doctor about wearing an eye patch.
  • If you get tired while chewing, rest between bites. Try foods that are chopped, cooked, or softened. Eat several small meals throughout the day rather than 2 or 3 big meals.
  • Avoid getting too hot, because heat seems to make symptoms worse.
  • Consider joining a support group with other people who have myasthenia gravis. These groups can be a good source of information and tips for what to do. Your doctor can tell you how to contact a support group.

What is myasthenia gravis?

Myasthenia gravis (say “my-us-THEE-nee-uh GRAW-vus”) is a rare autoimmune disease that causes muscle weakness and muscle fatigue.

In this disease,the body's own defense (immune) system attacks the muscle cells. Damage to the muscle cells blocks communication between the nerves and the muscles.

The weakness develops slowly, and it often affects the muscles of the face first. It may be hard to talk or to keep your eyes focused, and your eyelids may droop. You may find it hard to chew, swallow, or breathe.

The weakness often gets better when you rest and gets worse when you are active. You can start the day feeling strong. But after a little activity, you may start to feel weak.

This is a long-term condition. Anyone can get it. But it most often affects women under age 40 and men over age 60.

Myasthenia gravis: When to call

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You have severe trouble breathing.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You have trouble swallowing.
  • You are or think you may be pregnant and you have myasthenia gravis.
  • You have double vision.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.