Myasthenia gravis is an autoimmune disorder that affects the neuromuscular system, which involves all nerves and the muscles that control them. The cause is unknown, and it is most common in younger women and older men, but can happen at any age. In some people the cause is thought to be related to a tumor on the thymus, which is an immune system organ.
The hallmark symptom of myasthenia gravis is muscle weakness, this can present itself in many different ways including shortness of breath or breathing difficulty from chest wall muscles, chewing or swallowing problems, drooling, difficulty climbing stairs, rising from seated position, difficulty lifting objects, drooping head, drooping facial muscles, difficulty talking, facial paralysis, fatigue, double vision, voice hoarseness, and difficulty looking straight ahead.
When you see your doctor you can expect a detailed nervous system exam, blood tests for antibodies, MRI or CT scan to look for a tumor, EMG, and nerve conduction studies. There is no cure at this time, but symptoms can be greatly reduced. Treatment can include lifestyle changes such as scheduling rest periods, avoiding stress, avoiding temperature extremes, and wearing an eye patch for vision problems; medications can include steroids to suppress the immune system response and neostygmine to improve nerve connections.
There are many medications that can worsen your symptoms, so please make sure all of your healthcare professionals are aware of all of your medications, vitamins, and supplements. Often having this disease will make a person more susceptible to other autoimmune diseases, so be aware. With proper care people can have long periods of remission, and are able to live full, productive lives.