Learn All about Myasthenia Gravis
Myasthenia gravis usually causes patients to lose their facial expressions, among other things. In this article, learn all about this disease.
Myasthenia gravis is an autoimmune disease characterized by the weakness of voluntary muscles. This disease causes the immune system to attack muscle receptors that allow them to move. This means that it interrupts the connection between nerves and muscles, not allowing them to work properly.
The term myasthenia gravis comes from Latin and means “severe muscle weakness.” It affects approximately 1 in 5,000 people. Although it can manifest at any age, it’s more common before age 40 in women and after age 50 in men.
It’s a very disabling and complex disease that still has no cure. However, certain treatments help relieve symptoms. In this article, we’ll explain everything you need to know about this disease.
All about myasthenia gravis
To understand this disease, we first need to understand how muscles work.
Muscles receive chemical signals from the nerves. Normally, when we make a voluntary movement, these substances are released into the nerve endings. These substances act in muscle receptors and the movement occurs with the desired strength and precision.
However, myasthenia gravis impairs the immune system and attacks these muscle receptors. This doesn’t allow the chemicals to activate the muscles, causing weakness and fatigue. This muscle weakness worsens after a period of activity. Myasthenia gravis usually affects muscles such as those that control facial expressions, chewing, or swallowing. It can even affect respiratory muscles.
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As we mentioned above, muscle weakness is the main symptom. This weakness worsens as a muscle is used repeatedly and improves with rest. Unfortunately, the symptoms usually worsen over time and, within a few years of suffering from the disease, they can become quite severe.
Although it can affect numerous muscle groups, the ones that are most often affected are:
- Eye muscles. Most people who suffer from myasthenia gravis have vision problems such as double vision. They also tend to suffer from drooping eyelids.
- Many of the patients have difficulty speaking. They also have a nasal-sounding, soft voice.
- The swallowing process. This disease affects simple movements such as chewing or swallowing. This means that there’s a risk of choking when eating or drinking any food.
- Facial expressions. Myasthenia gravis patients often can’t smile normally.
- Moreover, weakness may manifest in the limbs or neck. When this occurs, it alters the patient’s ability to walk or keep their head in a natural position, which is why their head tends to fall sideways.
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Diagnosis of myasthenia gravis
To diagnose myasthenia gravis, first of all, the doctor needs to know all the symptoms and the patient’s medical history. Then, they must do a thorough physical examination. Also, numerous additional tests to confirm the diagnosis are required. For example, doctors will probably perform a neurological exam to check muscle strength and tone, reflexes, and coordination, among other things.
Blood tests also provide very useful information for diagnosis. As we already explained, it’s an autoimmune disease, which is why specific antibodies are usually found in the patient’s blood. The doctors also resort to other tests such as:
- Ice test, which is useful when the patient has a droopy eyelid. The doctor places an ice pack on the eyelid for about two minutes and then analyzes if there’s movement in that area.
- Repetitive nerve stimulation. This test sends electrical impulses to the nerves to see if they stimulate the muscle.
Myasthenia gravis is a complex disease that’s characterized by muscle weakness. It can affect different parts of the body such as the eyes, extremities, or respiratory muscles.
It’s a serious disease that can put the patient’s life at risk. Also, there’s still no cure, which is why it’s essential to see a doctor due to any symptoms so that they can prescribe the most appropriate treatment to control them.