What is Myasthenia Gravis?
Myasthenia gravis is a rare chronic autoimmune disorder characterized by weakness and rapid fatigue of muscles that occurs because of a breakdown in communication between nerves and muscles. Antibodies interrupt signal transmission at the neuromuscular junction, resulting in symptoms that include weakness in the arm and leg muscles, double vision, and difficulties with speech and chewing. Trouble breathing and swallowing can be a medical emergency.
While there’s no cure for myasthenia gravis, a combination of medications, therapy, and surgery can help control the symptoms and lead to a more functional life. Though this long-term disease can affect people of any age, it’s more common in women under 40 and men older than 60.
What Causes Myasthenia Gravis?
Myasthenia gravis occurs when the immune system produces antibodies that block or destroy many muscles’ receptor sites for a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine. With fewer receptor sites, muscles receive fewer nerve signals and weaken. Patients with myasthenia gravis often have an enlarged thymus gland that also produce these antibodies.
What are the Symptoms of Myasthenia Gravis?
Myasthenia gravis can either affect a certain muscle group, like eye and eyelid muscles, or can involve multiple muscle groups. Depending on which muscles are involved, symptoms can include weakness in the eye muscles, drooping eyelids, blurred vision, shortness of breath, difficulty swallowing, and impaired speech. Fatigue, infection, stress, and some medications can make symptoms worse.
How is Myasthenia Gravis Diagnosed?
The primary way to diagnose myasthenia gravis is through a blood draw to test for high levels of the antibody that stops signals between the nerves and muscles. A doctor may also conduct a neurological test of reflexes, muscle strength, coordination, and balance. Repetitive nerve stimulation and a pulmonary function test to assess breathing also may be ordered. An EMG, CT scan, or MRI may also be needed, depending on the muscle groups affected.
How is Myasthenia Gravis Treated?
A combination of medication, therapy, and even surgery may be used to improve symptoms. Cholinesterase inhibitors can improve communication between nerves and muscles. Corticosteroids that limit antibody production and other immunosuppressants might be prescribed. If a tumor or other problem is discovered with the thymus gland, it can be removed through surgery.
What you can expect at UTHealth Neurosciences
UTHealth Neurosciences brings together a multidisciplinary team of board-certified, fellowship-trained neurosurgeons, neurologists, researchers, and pain management specialists to help provide relief for even the most complex problems. Your team will share insights, leading to better treatment decisions and outcomes. You will receive expert care, excellent communication, and genuine compassion.
We first investigate nonsurgical treatment options, including medical management, pain management, physical therapy, rehabilitation, and watchful waiting. When surgery is needed, our neurosurgeons routinely employ innovative minimally invasive techniques. Throughout the treatment process, we will work closely with the doctor who referred you to ensure a smooth transition back to your regular care. While you are with us, you will receive expert care, excellent communication, and genuine compassion.
At UTHealth Houston Neurosciences, we offer patients access to specialized neurological care at clinics across the greater Houston area. To ask us a question, schedule an appointment, or learn more about us, please call (713) 486-8000, or click below to send us a message. In the event of an emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest Emergency Room.