Myasthenia gravis is an autoimmune neuromuscular disease causing weakness and rapid fatigue in the muscles. The symptoms tend to worsen within a few years after the onset of the disease. This article provides some information about the symptoms of the condition.
The term ‘myasthenia gravis’, is a Greek word which means ‘grave muscle weakness’. It is an autoimmune disease which occurs in the neuromuscular junction, which is the point of contact between the muscles and the nerves. Though this muscle disorder predominantly affects adults, it could also affect children. The condition worsens due to physical exertion, and improves once the person gets sufficient rest. Though this disease is more common in women under the age of 40, and men above 60 years of age, it could affect people from all age groups.
This condition might occur when the immune system erroneously destroys a healthy tissue. A cause for this medical condition would be some kind of interruption in the transmission process, at the neuromuscular junction. Normally, the process that takes place in the body is that while the nerve impulses travel along the nerve, the end of the nerve fiber releases a neurotransmitter substance called acetylcholine.
This neurotransmitter travels through the junction, and binds itself to the acetylcholine receptors, thereby activating it. This in turn, would generate a contraction in the muscle. However, if some of the antibodies that are produced by our body’s immune system, either block the receptors or destroy them at the junction, the muscle contraction does not take place. This gives rise to myasthenia gravis.
This medical condition is not as ‘grave’ as its name suggests. However, the problem is that sometimes the symptoms are mistaken for some other medical condition. The condition usually affects the voluntary muscles, but there are high chances that the muscles of the eye and eyelid, the facial muscles or the muscles that help in swallowing, get affected by this medical condition. The symptoms are as follows:
- Usually, the first symptom observed is that the eye muscles become weak. However, not every person affected by this condition might have weakness of the eye muscles as their first symptom.
- Some people might face difficulty in swallowing as the muscles that control swallowing, might have been affected, while slurred speech (dysarthria) may also be observed in some.
- The next common symptom is that of diplopia (or double vision), and drooping eyelids or asymmetrical ptosis (drooping eyelids). This symptom is observed in about 90% of the affected people.
- Another symptom may be visual confusion or unsteadiness. All of these symptoms occur due to the weakness in the eye muscles that control the eye movement. This is called ocular myasthenia gravis.
- Besides eye problems, the person might also get affected by weakness in the arms and leg muscles. The muscles of the fingers, leg, neck, and also the facial muscles might become weak.
- The affected person would find it difficult to swallow while eating or drinking, as the muscles get affected. Since these muscles do not function properly, food might enter the lungs of the person, thereby leading to aspiration pneumonia.
- Shortness of breath due to the weakness in the velar muscles is another sign of this condition. If this symptom is observed, the affected person must be taken to the hospital immediately. This might be a case of myasthenic crisis.
- Due to weakness in the muscles, the person would not be able to even stand without the support of the hands.
If a person experiences the aforementioned symptoms, medical help must be sought immediately, so as to prevent complications from arising. Although there is no cure for this condition, there are several treatment options, which are quite effective in alleviating the symptoms. In severe cases, the putative antibody can be removed by plasmapheresis. Besides taking prescription drugs, the person should get ample rest.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.