Myasthenia gravis (mi-uhs-THE-ne-uh GRA-vis) is characterized by weakness and
rapid fatigue of any of the muscles under your voluntary control. The cause of
myasthenia gravis is a breakdown in the normal communication between nerves and
There is no cure for myasthenia gravis, but treatment can help relieve signs and symptoms \u2014 such as weakness of arm or leg muscles, double vision, drooping eyelids, and difficulties with speech, chewing, swallowing and breathing.
While myasthenia gravis can affect people of any age, it's more common in women younger than 40 and in men older than 60. The disorder occurs in one or two people per 10,000.
Muscle weakness caused by myasthenia gravis worsens as the affected muscle is used repeatedly. Since symptoms typically improve with rest, your muscle weakness may come and go. While myasthenia gravis can affect any of the muscles that you control voluntarily, certain muscle groups are more commonly affected than others.
Myasthenia gravis can cause weakness in your arms and legs, but this usually happens
in conjunction with muscle weakness in other parts of your body \u2014 such as your
eyes, face or throat. The disorder usually affects arms more often than legs. However,
if it affects your legs, you may waddle when you walk.
Your nerves communicate with your muscles by releasing chemicals, called
neurotransmitters, which fit precisely into receptor sites on the muscle cells. In
myasthenia gravis, your immune system produces antibodies that block or destroy
many of your muscles' receptor sites for a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine. With
fewer receptor sites available, your muscles receive fewer nerve signals, resulting in
It's believed that the thymus gland, a part of your immune system located in the upper
chest beneath the breastbone, may trigger or maintain the production of these
antibodies. Large in infancy, the thymus is small in healthy adults. But, in some adults
with myasthenia gravis, the thymus is abnormally large. Some people also have
tumors of the thymus. Usually, thymus gland tumors are noncancerous.
Myasthenic crisis is a life-threatening condition, which occurs when the muscles that
control breathing become too weak to do their jobs. Emergency treatment is needed to
provide mechanical assistance with breathing. Medications and blood-filtering
therapies help people recover from myasthenic crisis, so they can again breathe on
About 15 percent of the people who have myasthenia gravis have a tumor in their
thymus, a gland under the breastbone that is involved with the immune system. Most
of these tumors are noncancerous.
secretes hormones that regulate your metabolism. If your thyroid is
underactive, your body uses energy more slowly. An overactive thyroid makes
your body use energy too quickly.
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