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Myasthenia gravis is an autoimmune disease. This means that the body's defenses against infection attack the body's own tissue. Myasthenia gravis makes your muscles very weak.
When you have myasthenia gravis, your immune system attacks your muscles. Antibodies made by your body block the action of chemicals that normally transmit signals from the nerves to the muscles. This makes it hard for you to use your muscles.
The cause of this disease is not well understood. It sometimes happens with other immune system disorders. It may begin at any age, but most often it starts between the ages of 20 and 40.
Rarely, this disease is caused by tumors of the thymus gland (a tissue of the immune system).
Symptoms may include:
Weakness, which gets worse over time, can vary from day to day. Stress, infection, or other factors can make symptoms worse. You may have symptom-free periods (remissions) followed by recurrences of symptoms (relapses). When this disease causes trouble breathing, it can be life-threatening.
Your health care provider will take your medical history and examine you. You may have tests such as:
Treatments may include:
With treatment, you can expect to lead a nearly normal life. Sometimes muscle weakness may go away for a time. There is no cure, except in rare instances when the disease is caused by a tumor of the thymus gland and the tumor or gland is surgically removed.
If you are on drug therapy, it is very important to take your medicine on an exact schedule. Any delay in taking medicine may leave you unable to swallow or breathe. You may want to set an alarm clock to remind you to take your medicine. These medicines should generally be taken with milk and crackers or other nonacid food.
Sedatives (tranquilizers or sleeping pills) and narcotic analgesics (pain medicines) can cause severe breathing problems. Wear a bracelet or necklace that states that you have myasthenia gravis. If you have trouble swallowing or breathing, get emergency treatment right away.
Since physical exertion may make your symptoms worse, you may have to change your activity somewhat.
You may also want to:
More information is available from:
Myasthenia Gravis Foundation of America
Phone: (800) 541-5454
Web site: http://www.myasthenia.org.
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
Phone: (800) 352-9424
Web site: http://www.ninds.nih.gov.