Myasthenia Gravis is a chronic neuromuscular (from the brain) autoimmune disorder which affects the muscles and the voluntary functions of the muscles and is characterized by varying degrees of weakness. The condition is from within the body, hence auto immunity disorder and generally refers to muscle weakness. This condition is always accompanied by weakness and fatigue.
Myasthenia Gravis is characterized by muscle weakness during periods of high activity and weakness reduces during periods of rest. Certain muscles that control the functions of the eyes, facial muscles, chewing, talking and walking are most affected.
The muscles that control breathing, neck and limb movements are also affected sometimes. This condition develops due to some defect in the nerves which transmit signals from the brain to parts of the body. Hence the name ‘neuromuscular’ disorder where the body’s own immune or defence system mistakenly attacks itself.
Myasthenia Gravis is caused when the nerves transmitting impulses/messages from the brain to the muscles report a defect. This defect may originate at the junction where the nerves meet the connecting muscle. This interruption may lead to a break in the passing on of impulses or messages from the brain to the muscles via the nerves.
On receiving a message from the brain [neuro] the particular nerves release a substance called acetylcholine which activates the muscle into performing the related function but in Myasthenia Gravis the antibodies attack and block the acetylcholine thus preventing a function.
Myasthenia Gravis is normally associated with weakness and reduced functions of the voluntary muscles. But the most prominent sign of Myasthenia Gravis is:
- Muscles that control the eyes and eyelids movement are affected the most leading to drooping eyelids
- Facial movements, Swallowing of food, Walking is affected
- Muscles which control breathing are affected
- Shortness of breath, impaired speech, weakness in the hand, legs, arms and fingers
Myasthenia Gravis can affect anyone irrespective of origin. Men above 60 and women under 40 are likely to be affected. Some of the risk factors are:
- Myasthenia Gravis is neither contagious nor directly inherited but can have a family history
- From mother to unborn child
- Defective genes producing unwanted proteins in the body
Myasthenia Gravis can be diagnosed by:
- Medical records, family history, weaknesses in the muscles, reduced eye and facial movements, breathing problems
- Blood tests to determine the presence of certain proteins which destroy acetylcholine receptors
- Certain neurological examinations
- Imaging Tests like CT and MRIs to detect any abnormality in the thymus gland which controls the immunity of the body
Myasthenia Gravis has no cure, it only can be treated. Some of the symptoms of Myasthenia Gravis can be managed by treatment. The specialist who can advise on Myasthenia Gravis is known as Neurologist. It could also involve a team of doctors and therapists to help you keep a check on the symptoms and reduce the discomfort.
Making certain changes in the routine along with the medication can help lead a quality life with Myasthenia Gravis. Well balanced diet, adjusting the activities to the right time, using of tools and gadgets that ease the task and save energy thus preventing fatigue.
Being a part of support group can ease the difficulties and stress.
One great example of Myasthenia Gravis is India’s great superstar actor Amitabh Bachchan.
Amitabh Bachhan was diagnosed with Myasthenia Gravis in the 80s, but that did not stop him from doing what he wanted to do and he went on to become the greatest star of hindi cinema and is a recipient of many awards and he is still working!