ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Myasthenia Gravis – An Autoimmune Disease

Updated on October 11, 2014

What is Myasthenia Gravis?

Myasthenia Gravis is an autoimmune neuromuscular disorder characterized by the weakness and fatigue of voluntary muscle groups. This disorder sometimes affects certain muscles only such as the muscles of eyes, which is called ocular myasthenia gravis; but generalized myasthenia gravis is also can be seen in many patients that affects other muscle groups also.

A study in United States shows that 20 persons out of 100,000 are becoming victim to this disease. It is not a contagious disease nor is it transferred by inheritance. It affects all groups of people; races, age or gender is not a barrier. Statistics show that it is commonly attacks younger women in 20 to 40 age groups and men in 50 to 70 age groups.

Myasthenia gravis caused the muscles to weaken slowly as the immune system attacks the receptors used for muscle contraction. Practically there is no cure for myasthenia gravis, but treatment is available for the different discomforts such as muscle weaknesses, double vision, drooping eyelids and for the difficulties with delivering speech, swallowing, breathing etc. When the disease affects the muscle groups that are related to breathing, it becomes a life-threatening condition. In women, the condition of myasthenia gravis will worsen during their menstrual period.

Myasthenia Gravis

Drooping Eyes of A Mayasthenia Gravis Patient
Drooping Eyes of A Mayasthenia Gravis Patient | Source
Thymus Gland
Thymus Gland | Source

Causes of Myasthenia Gravis

Myasthenia gravis is caused by a defect in the transmission of nerve impulses to muscles. A receptor is an area in a muscle to where the brain sends messages (using a chemical called acetylcholine) to do contraction. A group of muscles will have a lot of receptors for its better functioning. When you are affected by myasthenia gravis, the number of receptors will be reduced considerably (sometimes up to 80%), which affects the normal functioning of that muscle group.

The destruction of the receptors is caused by the defective actions by the antibodies because of some unknown reason. The antibodies block or destroy the receptors at the neuromuscular junction which prevents the muscle from contracting.

In some cases, this malfunction of antibodies is related to a tumor of thymus gland (thymoma) which helps to produce antibodies. Thymus gland which lies in the chest area plays an important part in the development of the immune system in the early stages of life and it will become smaller after the puberty stage of a person. 15% of the myasthenia gravis patients have tumor in their thymus.

Myasthenia Gravis Patient
Myasthenia Gravis Patient | Source

Signs and Symptoms of Myasthenia Gravis

Myasthenia gravis affects the working of the voluntary muscles such as the muscles that control eye and eyelid movement, facial expression and swallowing or chewing. When the disease becomes severe, it will affect the eye vision, speech control and the patient will feel weakness in hands, legs and neck. The usual symptoms of this disorder are:

  • Double vision or blurred vision
  • Indistinct speech
  • Muscle fatigue and weakness in arms and legs
  • Drooping eyelid
  • Breathing difficulty
  • Difficulty for food intake (in chewing and swallowing)
  • Weak cough
  • Difficulty to smile
  • Difficult to lift the arm upwards
  • Difficulty to rise to a stand
  • Difficulty to walk up stairs

Myasthenia Gravis
Myasthenia Gravis | Source

Diagnosis and Blood Test for Myasthenia Gravis

Since the weakness in the muscles is associated with many other diseases, when somebody feels a weakness in the hands or legs, he will not suspect it as the effect of myasthenia gravis. In normal case, the diagnosis of myasthenia gravis is delayed because of this reason. If the physician suspects myasthenia gravis in a patient after studying the person’s medical history and the impairment of eye movements, then he will do some other tests also for confirmation.

  • Test by injecting edrophonium chloride - Injection of edrophonium chloride temporarily improves the muscle strength and this can be taken as an indication of having myasthenia gravis.
  • Blood test will be done to find the presence of acetylcholine receptor antibodies in blood. Most of the myasthenia gravis patients have higher levels of antibodies in their blood.
  • Nerve conduction test will be done to find about the muscle responses when the nerves are stimulated by small pulses of electricity.
  • Weakness of the muscle will be tested by holding the arms out at length for a reasonable period of time.
  • EMG or Single fiber electromyography used to detect the impaired nerve-to-muscle transmission. Muscle fibers of a patient having myasthenia gravis do not respond to repeated electrical stimulation compared to the muscles of a normal person.
  • Breathing strength of the patient will be measured using pulmonary function test.
  • MRI or CT scan test will be done find out the presence of thymoma (tumor in thymus gland).

Treatment for Myasthenia Gravis

There is no complete cure for this disorder, but at the same time the various symptoms related to this disease can be treated successfully to get relief. Medicines used in the treatment of myasthenia gravis are for improving the muscle strength by suppressing the production of abnormal antibodies. A neurologist will decide the methods of treatment after analyzing the physical condition of the patient. Some of the treatment methods are as below:

  • Drugs such as pyridostigmine, azathioprine, mycophenolate and cyclosporine etc. are used to stimulate the receptors and to suppress the immune system.
  • In severe cases, the anti-body containing plasma will be replaced with antibody-free plasma and this treatment is called plasmapheresis.
  • If the thymus gland is affected by tumor, surgery (thymectomy) will be conducted to remove this gland.
  • If the patient has breathing difficulties, hospital admission is necessary and the patient should be placed on a respirator temporarily.
  • Sometimes antibiotics also will be used if some infection occurs in this condition.

Test Your Knowledge about Myasthenia Gravis

view quiz statistics

Prevention of Myasthenia Gravis

As in the case of the treatment, there is no sure way to prevent myasthenia gravis. But if you have this disorder, you can take some precautionary measures to control or to avoid more severe condition by observing the following guidelines:

  • If you have infections, treat the infections by taking proper antibiotics.
  • Keep your surroundings in a hygienic condition and avoid contacting sick people.
  • Avoid overexertion.
  • Do not live in very hot or in very cold situation.
  • Take professional help to manage stress.

Treatment for myasthenia gravis improves the muscle weakness in many patients and they can return to their normal lives. In some cases the patients can even discontinue their drugs intake after the recovery. Technological advances and advanced researches are now helping for the accurate diagnosis of the disease and for the better management of the disorder.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • thumbi7 profile image

      JR Krishna 

      3 years ago from India

      Very informative hub

      Voted up :)

    • Tom Marshal profile imageAUTHOR

      Tom Marshal 

      4 years ago from India


      Thank you for reading my hub and sharing your encouraging comment.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thanks for sharing this useful and informative hub about myasthenia gravis.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)