Myasthenia Gravis

Myasthenia gravis is a chronic, complex autoimmune disorder in which antibodies destroy neuromuscular connections. Neurology specialists with Lehigh Valley Health Network can help you understand and manage myasthenia gravis.

Myasthenia gravis is not inherited or contagious. It is an autoimmune disorder that targets neuromuscular connections in the body, particularly the eyes, mouth, throat and limbs.

Neurologists with Lehigh Valley Health Network can diagnose and help you manage the symptoms of myasthenia gravis.

Signs of myasthenia gravis

The symptoms of myasthenia gravis may resemble other conditions. Always consult your doctor for a diagnosis.

  • Visual problems, including drooping eyelids (ptosis) and double vision (diplopia) – About two-thirds of people with myasthenia gravis initially have these symptoms.
  • Severe muscle weakness and fatigue that may vary rapidly in intensity over days or even hours and worsen as muscles are used (early fatigue)
  • Facial muscle involvement causing a mask-like appearance; a smile may appear more like a snarl
  • Difficulty in swallowing and/or pronouncing words
  • Weakness of the neck and/or limbs

It is diagnosed using blood tests to look for antibodies, as well as electromyogram (EMG) and quantitative sensory testing to evaluate how you respond to vibration and temperature changes. 

Treatment for mysthenia gravis

There is no cure for myasthenia gravis, but the symptoms generally can be controlled.

The goal of treatment is to increase general muscle function and prevent secondary respiratory and nutritional problems since the swallowing and breathing muscles are affected by this condition. Most people with myasthenia gravis can improve their muscle strength and lead normal or near normal lives. In more severe cases, respiratory or nutritional support may be required due to breathing or swallowing difficulty.

About 80 percent of patients have elevated levels of acetylcholine receptor antibodies, which researchers believe are produced by the thymus gland.

Treatment options

Medication: Specialists may prescribe medications designed to improve communication between the nerves and muscles. Other medications address elevated levels of acetylcholine receptor antibodies in order to improve neuromuscular transmission and increase muscle strength. These medications will be monitored closely because of potential side effects.

Thymectomy: Surgical removal of the thymus gland (thymectomy) has been shown to be particularly effective in controlling symptoms of myasthenia gravis.  Lehigh Valley Health Network offers the latest noninvasive surgical options for thymectomy.