Myasthenia gravis is a weakening of the muscles. It generally affects the skeletal or voluntary muscles such as those in and around the eye, face, jaw, and throat; interfering with vision, swallowing, breathing, and even walking.
The illness is an autoimmune disorder which is defined as any disease in which the cells of the body attack itself. In the case of myasthenia gravis, the immune system of the body creates antibodies that interfere or destroy the messages sent from nerve endings to the muscles. The result is a weakening of those muscles and loss of movement. It is considered chronic, meaning long-lasting and recurring, but treatable.
The thymus gland, located in our upper chests, is an important part of our immune system. People with myasthenia gravis have a poorly functioning thymus gland.
Myasthenia gravis is often characterized by noticeably weak or droopy eyes and eyelids and unusual facial expressions; however, there could also be persistent muscle fatigue throughout the body.
Other symptoms include blurred vision, slurred speech, pain while chewing or swallowing, weakened limbs, and even labored breathing. Many of these symptoms are often hard to distinguish from normal tiredness or weariness, and the severity of weakness varies greatly between people. If you often feel excessively tired and you frequently notice your muscles not responding as you intend, it is time to contact your doctor to be tested for myasthenia gravis.
Testing for Myasthenia Gravis at NYPBMH
Physicians test for myasthenia gravis through several different types of specialized blood, muscle, and breathing tests as well as neurological exams. A computed tomography (or CT) screening is used to determine the health of your thymus gland.
Patients can aid the process by coming to the office with a detailed journal of when and how often your symptoms occur, being specific in the location of your muscle weakness.
Treatment for Myasthenia Gravis
Once the diagnosis is complete, the doctor will plot a course of treatment tailored to each patient's precise needs, symptoms and medical history. The doctor's goal is to control symptoms so that patients can return to a full and satisfying lifestyle.
Though a cure for myasthenia gravis is still unknown, medications and other procedures are used to provide relief from muscle fatigue.
If medications are not successful at controlling the disorder, a doctor may recommend a procedure called thymectomy (or surgical removal of the thymus gland). This surgery has proven successful in reducing the symptoms of myasthenia gravis.
At NYPBMH, the thymectomy is performed in a minimally invasive way called "thoracoscopic thymectomy" which involves making only several small or keyhole-sized incisions in the chest. Then tiny video cameras and instruments are used to view and take out the thymus gland. Patients generally have a quicker recovery time with this procedure rather than traditional surgery and experience less pain and complications after surgery.