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What is myasthenia gravis?

Myasthenia gravis (MG) is an autoimmune disorder of the nerves and muscles of the body that causes progressive weakness and, often, drooping of the eyelids known as ocular myasthenia. This causes people to experience double vision as the day progresses.

Symptoms

Symptoms of MG may also occur predominantly in the throat with swallowing difficulties, problems with aspiration pneumonia (inflammation of lungs and airways due to breathing in a foreign material) or difficulty speaking.

In some cases, the arms and legs are weakened to the point that walking or daily activities are affected.

Diagnosis

Diagnosis of MG is based upon blood tests, which may show elevated levels of specific antibodies. In some cases, the level of antibodies is not increased, and evaluation based upon nerve tests and EMG will be required.

Treatments

Both medical and surgical treatment may be helpful to myasthenia gravis patients. Medicines that suppress the immune system and intravenous treatments can be of benefit.

Surgery may offer a permanent cure or significant improvement in many patients. Removal of the thymus gland, which is in the lower neck and upper chest, has been known for many years to improve patients with myasthenia. In some patients a complete remission may be obtained.

Many surgical approaches offered are minimally invasive and can lead to a rapid hospital discharge and quick recovery from surgery. This includes video thoracoscopic, trans-cervical, robotic and other surgical methods. MG patients may also have tumors of the thymus gland, thymoma. These are removed along with the rest of the thymus gland, and depending on the pathology, may require no further therapy.

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