Myasthenia Gravis

Henry Ford’s Neurodegenerative Diseases Center specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of myasthenia gravis, an autoimmune disease that causes muscle weakness and fatigue. Our doctors are among America's leading specialists in this condition.

The Myasthenia Gravis Foundation of America has designated Henry Ford as a site for the comprehensive care and advanced research of this disease.

What is myasthenia gravis?

Myasthenia gravis is caused by a defect in the transmission of nerve impulses to muscles. It causes abnormal weakness of certain muscles, usually eye, facial, throat, shoulder and hip muscles. It may also affect muscles that assist with breathing. The degree of weakness experienced in these muscle groups varies significantly from person to person.

Symptoms of myasthenia gravis

Although myasthenia gravis may affect any voluntary muscle, it commonly affects muscles that control eye and eyelid movement, facial expressions and swallowing. The onset of the disorder may be sudden. Symptoms of this neuromuscular disorder include:

  • Drooping eyelids
  • Double vision
  • Slurred speech
  • Nasal quality to voice
  • Inability to speak
  • Drooling
  • Problems chewing and/or swallowing
  • Trouble sitting up or holding head erect or walking
  • Weak cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Overall fatigue and fatigue of muscles after repetitive movement

Most individuals with myasthenia gravis have a normal life expectancy. However, if this disorder affects your respiratory muscles, those muscles can become so weak that it obstructs your airways, severely affecting breathing. It is important to treat these symptoms as soon as possible.

Expert diagnosis of myasthenia gravis at Henry Ford Hospital

If you experience muscle weakness, doctors at Henry Ford will conduct a thorough evaluation to determine if you have myasthenia gravis. Diagnostic tests may include:

  • Nerve studies: These studies test for specific muscle fatigue by repetitive nerve stimulation.
  • Nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy: This evaluates the bioenergetics of your muscles, a study provided by only a few centers in the United States.
  • Single fiber electromyography (EMG): During this test, we use electrical impulses to stimulate single muscle fibers. Our doctors, who have extensive experience with this technique, analyze the results. Only a few other centers in the state provide this procedure.
  • Imaging tests: We may use chest X-rays, CT scans and MRIs to detect a tumor in the thymus gland, which could be causing the myasthenia gravis disorder.

Advanced myasthenia gravis treatment and research at Henry Ford

Doctors at Henry Ford will create a personalized treatment plan for you that may include:

  • Medical therapies:
    • Anticholinesterase agents, which improve neuromuscular transmission and increase muscle strength
    • Immunosuppressive drugs to improve muscle strength by suppressing the immune system’s attack on itself, reducing inflammation
    • High-dose intravenous immune globulin, which uses normal antibodies from donated blood to temporarily modify your immune system
  • Surgical procedures:
    • The surgical removal of the thymus gland (thymectomy), which is often abnormal in myasthenia gravis patients
    • The removal of abnormal antibodies from the blood (plasmapheresis)
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