DefinitionMyasthenia gravis (MG) is an autoimmune disease. It affects the connection between the nerves and skeletal muscles. This can cause progressive muscle weakness.
CausesThe root cause of MG is unknown. It occurs when the body’s immune system attacks receptors in muscle. Normally, these receptors respond to the chemical acetylcholine (ACh). This chemical allows nerve signals to prompt the muscles to move. When the immune system prevents these receptors from working well, the muscles cannot respond to nerve signals.The thymus is thought to play a role in some cases of MG. The thymus is an organ behind the breastbone. Immune proteins called antibodies are produced there. It is these antibodies that may target the ACh receptors. It is still not clear why the thymus begins to produce these.
|The Thymus Gland|
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Risk FactorsMG is most common in women less than 40 years old and in men over 60 years old.
SymptomsSymptoms may grow more severe over time. MG may cause the following:
- Muscle weakness that increases with muscle use/exercise, and improves after resting those muscles
- Drooping eyelids
- Double and/or blurred vision
- Difficulty swallowing
- Difficulty speaking
- Difficulty walking
- Weakness of the hand muscles
- Difficulty breathing
DiagnosisYour doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. You may need to see a neurologist. This type of doctor is an expert in diseases of the nervous system. Tests may include:
- Blood tests
- Electromyography (EMG) tests—to reveal abnormalities in muscle functioning
- Repetitive nerve stimulation (a component of EMG)—may show progressively increasing muscle weakness over the course of the test
- Tensilon test—a dose of a medication called edrophonium chloride is given, which will briefly improve muscle weakness
- Pulmonary function testing
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