An autoimmune disease that weakens the muscles in charge of breathing and moving parts of the body, myasthenia gravis affects both men and women of all races and ethnicities, but it is most common in young adult women and older men, and rarely affects children.
Myasthenia gravis is considered an autoimmune disease because the immune system — which is in charge of protecting the body from disease — mistakenly attacks itself, thereby interrupting the communication between the nerve and muscle at the point where both meet to control muscles. It specifically targets some of the chemicals at that point that trigger muscles to move.
Scientists believe the thymus gland, which is located behind your sternum and between your lungs, may play a key role in the immune imbalance of myasthenia gravis. This tiny organ produces thymosin, a hormone that defends against certain diseases. With myasthenia gravis, the thymus gland may give incorrect instructions to new immune cells, sending them to attack neuromuscular transmission.
The main symptom of myasthenia gravis is muscle weakness that worsens after activity and improves after rest. Certain muscles, such as those that control facial expressions, eye and eyelid movement, speaking and swallowing, often are affected by this disorder. The muscles that control breathing, neck and limb movements may also be impacted. In most cases, the first sign is weakness of the eye muscles or slurred speech and difficulties swallowing. Additional symptoms may include blurred or double vision, and weakness in the arms, hands, legs, and neck.
Although there is no definitive cure for myasthenia gravis, there are treatments that can help to manage symptoms and may allow people to lead relatively normal lives. Medications to treat the disorder include anticholinesterase agents to help protect the chemical substances that act as a bridge between nerve and muscle, and immunosuppressive drugs that can slow the production of abnormal antibodies.
Other procedures used in the treatment of myasthenia gravis are:
- Intravenous immunoglobulin, an injection of concentrated antibodies that temporarily improves the way the immune system works.
- Plasmapheresis, a procedure using a device that removes harmful antibodies and replaces them with normal ones donated by other people.
- Surgery in severe cases to removal of the thymus gland to help rebalance the immune system.
- Patients with severe symptoms who do not respond to traditional treatments often look to stem cell therapy for treatment.
If you have MG or another autoimmune disease, call the National Stem Cell Centers to learn more about treatment options. Our offices are in New York at (646) 448-0427, and Long Island office at (516) 403-1457. Call today to discuss a treatment option that is right for you.