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Article title: MYASTHENIA GRAVIS: NWHIC
What is myasthenia
Who gets myasthenia gravis?
If a woman has myasthenia and gives birth, will the baby be affected?
What is the treatment for myasthenia gravis?
What kind of doctor treats myasthenia gravis?
Is myasthenia associated with other conditions?
Myasthenia gravis is an autoimmune disease that affects the transmission of signals from nerves to muscles. Myasthenia occurs when antibodies, produced by the body’s immune system, mistakenly attack and destroy special proteins called acetylcholine receptors located at the nerve-muscle junctions. As a result, affected individuals experience weakness that fluctuates with activity. Depending on the severity of each individual case, MG may be limited to the facial muscles, especially ocular (eye) muscles, causing drooping of the eyelids (ptosis), and/or difficulty in chewing, swallowing, smiling and talking. In more severe instances, the disease may affect all of the skeletal or voluntary muscles, including those that control breathing, coughing, arm and leg movements.
Myasthenia gravis occurs in about five people per 100,000. In rare cases, myasthenia is caused by a genetic abnormality in neuromuscular transmission, and appears in infants born to non-myasthenic mothers. This type is called congenital myasthenia. However, the vast majority of cases can be attributed to an acquired disorder of the immune system that appears in adulthood.
When myasthenia affects young adults, particularly those in their 20s and 30s, women are twice as likely to be affected as men in the same age group. MG occurs in all racial/ethnic groups and is documented in countries throughout the world.
About 15% of babies born to mothers with autoimmune MG develop a feeble cry, poor sucking, respiratory distress or "floppiness," which can be reversed by medication or blood exchange to remove antibiotics. These signs of neonatal myasthenia spontaneously disappear over the first few months of life.
Today, MG is well-controlled. Therapies include medications such as anticholinesterase agents, prednisone, cyclosporine and azathioprine. Other treatments include thymectomy, the surgical removal of the thymus gland; plasmapheresis, a procedure in which abnormal antibodies are removed from blood plasma; and high-dose intravenous immunoglobulin that modifies the immune system. A physician will determine which treatment option is best for each patient depending on the severity of the weakness, which muscles are affected, and the patient’s age and other associated medical problems.
With treatment, most MG patients will have excellent improvement of their muscle weakness. In some patients, MG, like many other autoimmune diseases, may go into remission and muscle weakness may disappear completely. In a few cases, MG may cause severe weakness resulting in acute respiratory failure; however, most patients can expect to lead normal or nearly normal lives.
Patients with myasthenia should be followed by a neurologist. However, patients themselves should follow a few simple steps to help cope with the condition in their daily lives. Plenty of rest and a well balanced, potassium-rich diet can help alleviate fatigue. It is important for persons with MG to avoid overexertion, and if necessary, to rest the eyes or to lie down briefly a few times a day.
Since it is an autoimmune disease, it may occur in combination with other autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus. MG is also associated with tumors of the thymus gland located in the neck.
You can find out more about Myasthenia Gravis by contacting the following organizations:
American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association, Inc, (800) 598-4668
Myasthenia Gravis Foundation, (800) 541-5454
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, (301) 496-5751
Contributing to this FAQ on Myasthenia Gravis: Indiana University School of Medicine, a National Center of Excellence in Women’s Health, sponsored by the Office on Women's Health in the Department of Health and Human Services.
All material contained in the FAQs is free of copyright restrictions, and may be copied, reproduced, or duplicated without permission of the Office on Women's Health in the Department of Health and Human Services; citation of the sources is appreciated.
Publication date: 1998
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