Myasthenia gravis causes abnormal muscle weakness after everyday activities, like getting out of bed or walking up stairs. But it doesn’t have to limit your life.
Henry Ford Health System has been a myasthenia gravis center of excellence for more than 20 years. We offer comprehensive testing, attentive care for flare-ups and innovative treatments through clinical trials. We’re attentive to your needs and deliver the services you need for a good quality of life.
What Is myasthenia gravis?
Under normal circumstances, rapid communication between the brain and muscles helps you move your body. With myasthenia gravis, abnormal antibodies from the immune system interrupt brain signals before they reach the muscles.
As a result, muscles that help you breathe, talk and move tire easily. Myasthenia gravis symptoms can come on suddenly. Infections, stress and certain medications can trigger a crisis. Occasionally, you may experience serious breathing problems (myasthenic crisis). Sometimes there’s no known cause.
Myasthenia gravis symptoms
Symptoms of myasthenia gravis include:
- Double vision or a drooping eyelid
- Difficulty chewing or swallowing
- Slurred speech and drooling
- Shortness of breath
- Weak cough
- Trouble sitting up, holding your head or walking
Causes of myasthenia gravis
Myasthenia gravis symptoms can have many causes, including:
- Autoimmune reactions: With myasthenia gravis, antibodies in the immune system attack healthy cells in your nerve endings.
- Medications: Certain antibiotics, steroids and cholesterol-lowering drugs (statins) can also cause myasthenia gravis symptoms.
- Thymus gland tumor (thymoma): The thymus gland is part of the immune system. Tumors in this area are abnormal growths that typically are not cancerous, but may cause MG symptoms.
Myasthenia gravis care at Henry Ford: Why choose us?
Our team has an uncommon level of experience that comes from caring for a high volume of patients. We use these capabilities to make sure you always get the most appropriate services. Find out more about our myasthenia gravis clinic.
When you come to us for myasthenia gravis care, you’ll find:
- Expertise: You receive care from fellowship-trained neurologists who specialize in neuromuscular diseases, such as myasthenia gravis. They work with other Henry Ford specialists when necessary to tailor treatments to your needs.
- Timely care: If you are experiencing signs of a myasthenic crisis, we help you receive treatment as quickly as possible. We coordinate with Henry Ford emergency doctors whenever necessary so you can receive ventilator support or IV immunoglobulin.
- Clinical trials: Our experts conduct research to learn more about the causes of myasthenia gravis and potential new care options. Clinical trials give you the opportunity to participate in these efforts. Explore neurodegenerative diseases research and innovation.
Myasthenia gravis evaluation
We start by performing a neurologic exam, which includes assessing muscle strength coordination and other factors. This exam helps us rule out other conditions and determine the additional testing you may need.
Other tests we use to evaluate myasthenia gravis symptoms include:
- Electrodiagnostics: We perform in-depth studies evaluating nerve and muscle function. These studies help us assess electrical activity in the muscles and the signals they receive from the nerves. Read more about our electromyography (EMG) lab.
- Imaging studies: We may use chest X-rays, computed tomography (CT) scans and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). These tests help us detect signs of a thymus tumor.
Treatments for myasthenia gravis
Treatments to control myasthenia gravis and help you avoid a myasthenic crisis include:
- Cholinesterase inhibitors: Medications to slow the chemical breakdown that interferes with brain-muscle communication
- Immunosuppressants: Steroids and other drugs that slow the production of abnormal antibodies
- Thymectomy: Surgery to remove the thymus gland in people with thymoma or other thymus abnormalities
- Eculizumab: A drug that quiets immune system activity responsible for myasthenia gravis
A myasthenic crisis typically requires a visit to the emergency room for other treatments, such as:
- Intravenous (IV) immunoglobulin: A high dose of healthy antibodies received through a vein in your arm can help stop the crisis.
- Plasma exchange (plasmapheresis): Plasma is the liquid portion of the blood that supports your immune system. With myasthenia gravis, the plasma contains high levels of abnormal antibodies. Plasmapheresis brings these levels down with plasma from a healthy donor.
- Ventilator support: For severe symptoms, you may need a machine to help you breathe. Being on a ventilator typically requires a stay in our intensive care unit with around the clock monitoring.