about Myasthenia Gravis
What is it?
Myasthenia Gravis (pronounced My-as-theen-ee-a Grav-us), also known as "MG," is a serious auto-immune neuromuscular disease that manifests itself by varying degrees of weakness in the body.
How does it work?
For unknown reasons, the immune system of MG patients produces antibodies that attack the junction between nerve and muscle cells. The impulse from a healthy nerve is blocked or altered by the antibodies so it cannot reach the healthy muscle. This defect, along with a reduction of nerve receptor sites, causes fatigue and weakness of the myasthenic's voluntary muscles.
MG can appear in all races and in both sexes from infancy to senior citizen. However, it is more prevalent in women than men. In women, it occurs generally between the ages of 18 and 40. In men, it appears more frequently after the age of 40. MG is not contagious or directly inherited. It is estimated that about 14 out of every 100,000 people in the United States have Myasthenia Gravis.
- Blurred or double vision
- Involuntary drooping eyelids
- Nasal voice, usually after prolonged talking
- Difficulty chewing or swallowing, particularly towards the end of a meal
- Weakness in the arms and legs
- Loss of facial expression, including the ability to smile
- Difficult or shallow breathing
A patient may experience one, or a combination of these symptoms and the severity varies from patient to patient. Mild cases are temporarily relieved by rest. Strength is usually best in the morning, but difficulties increase as the day progresses and the patient becomes fatigued. Initially, symptoms can often come and go, making diagnosis difficult. Tiredness in the usual sense is not a typical symptom.
A well-balanced diet, regular eating habits, sufficient rest, and maintaining low stress factors also reduce symptoms and are important in achieving maximum benefit from treatment therapies.
Cause and Cure
It is currently unknown why or how MG develops. Recent research indicates that the "missing link" is in the autoimmune process, where abnormal antibodies interfere with the neuromuscular transmission. These findings reinforce the improvement many patients experience after removal of the thymus gland, whose function is to develop immunity against foreign cells such as infection causing bacteria. An EMG, antibody titer blood test, neurological exam, and symptom history all play a role in proper diagnosis. Research continues to probe into improving diagnostics, treatment modalities and pursuing the exact cause and ultimate cure of MG.
There is Hope
Due to advances in treatment, the future for a patient with MG is very bright. In some cases, MG may go into remission for a time period when no treatment is necessary. While there is much that can be done, there is still much more to learn to better understand MG. Research plays an important role in finding answers for MG. Research is ongoing and will continue until a cure is found.
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