Myasthenia gravis 

Overview 

Myasthenia gravis means "grave muscle weakness" 

Who is affected by myasthenia gravis?

Myasthenia gravis is a rare condition, affecting about 1 in every 10,000 people in the UK.

It can develop at any age, but most commonly affects women under 40 years of age and men over 60.

Myasthenia gravis is a rare long-term condition that causes certain muscles to become weak.

It mainly affects muscles that are controlled voluntarily  often those controlling eye and eyelid movement, facial expression, chewing, swallowing and talking.

Sometimes, the muscles that control breathing, neck and limb movements are also affected. 

The muscle weakness associated with myasthenia gravis is usually worse during physical activity and improves with rest.

Read more about the symptoms of myasthenia gravis.

What causes myasthenia gravis?

Myasthenia gravis is an autoimmune condition that affects the nerves and muscles. Autoimmune conditions are caused by the body's immune system mistakenly attacking healthy tissue.

In myasthenia gravis, the immune system produces antibodies (proteins) that block or damage muscle receptor cells.

This prevents messages being passed from the nerve endings to the muscles, which results in the muscles not contracting (tightening) and becoming weak.

It is not fully understood why some people's immune systems produce antibodies that attack the muscle receptor cells.

Read more about the causes of myasthenia gravis.

Diagnosing myasthenia gravis

The process of diagnosing myasthenia gravis can take a long time because muscle weakness is a symptom of many different conditions.

Your GP will look at your medical history and symptoms. They may suspect myasthenia gravis if your eye movements are impaired or if you have muscle weakness but you are still able to feel things.

You may be referred to a neurologist (specialist in nervous system disorders), who will carry out some tests to help confirm the diagnosis.

Read more about how myasthenia gravis is diagnosed.

Treating myasthenia gravis

There is no cure for myasthenia gravis, but treatments are available to help control the symptoms and improve muscle weakness.

Medication can be used to improve communication between the nerves and muscles and increase muscle strength.

Immunosuppressants are a type of medication used to improve muscle strength by controlling the production of abnormal antibodies.

In some cases of myasthenia gravis, surgery may be recommended to remove the thymus gland (a thymectomy). The thymus gland is found underneath the breastbone and is part of the immune system. It is often abnormal in people with myasthenia gravis.

Read more about how myasthenia gravis is treated.

Outlook

In most cases, treatment for myasthenia gravis significantly improves muscle weakness and a person with the condition is able to lead a relatively normal life.

Some people may experience a temporary or permanent period of remission (where there are no longer symptoms) and treatment can be stopped.

Permanent remissions occur in about a third of all people who have a thymectomy (surgery to remove the thymus gland).

Page last reviewed: 21/03/2013

Next review due: 21/03/2015

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Comments

The 7 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

RioR said on 03 September 2013

At MGA we have some very good literature to support you with your Myasthenia together with information for professionals You can ring for a pack on 01332 290219

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japagow said on 12 August 2013

Mg is a debilitating condition. Most doctors have heard of it but there are still plenty who are ignorant. this makes treatment very difficult. my partner has been diagnosed for many years. when she is tired she cannot walk. if she talks too much she get tired also. you might think that is a good thing but to see her crying through frustration is not.
her condition mean she lives on tablets and these produce highs and lows.
some research is being gone into the condition in europe and I wish more could be done in this country because sufferers have a very difficult life

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Dave 2409 said on 12 July 2013

Recently my blood tests revealed very high levels of the antibody assosiated with MG, but still its unconfirmed that i have the disease.... Odd i think.
I get random bouts of muscle problems, like fatigue especially after higher level activity, but no eye problems at all, rest is my strongest weapon for the fatigue, some breathing problems occur at times, lying down normally induces this problem but its short lived. Ive been into keep fit for donkeys years so what sets this MG off i wonder. the drug isnt to pleasant really and seems to be of no help at all.

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carolo said on 29 January 2013

I quite agree with you - I was diagnosed with generalised myasthenia gravis in December 2009 and since then I have lost my job - become very immobile and unable to do the easiest of tasks without becoming totally fatigued after a very short while.
Many articles/info sheets I read regarding this illness seem to play down the severity and I would love to know how normal they all mean by be able to have a near normal life as I have yet to regain anything like the life I had.
And yes, the drugs are not the nicest ones to take.

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JPanico said on 04 September 2012

While I am sure that for many patients it is fair to say that a normal life is possible, I do feel the article under-represents the severe consequences faced by some.

My mother suffers from MG and her life has been severly affected, with breathing difficulties which, as far as I am aware aren't voluntary muscles (so I'd suggest changing the text to refelect that) and side-effects from the drugs being used in an attempt to treat her causing considerable difficulties in themselves.

Indeed, it could be argued that the drugs used to supress the MG can cause problems greater than the symptoms and the lack of understanding of the condition in many parts of the NHS, and in the general caring community, really do mean that life, for some, is far from normal.

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PeterL said on 18 May 2009

I have had a totally different experience and from the reading that I have done a blood test (only done at Oxford) can give a completely 'positive' result without any ambiguity. A high antibody count is conclusive of MG albeit I assume that you display symptoms of muscle weakness. From what I read potentially difficult to get the initial diagnosis but fairly easily confirmed.

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Duruffle said on 06 May 2009

Trying to get a positive diagnosis from Neurologist seems well nigh imposible.

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