Your QuestionWhat does myasthenia gravis do to my body?
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In general, signs and symptoms of myasthenia gravis may include a drooping of one or both eyelids (ptosis); blurred or double vision (diplopia); unstable or waddling gait; weakness in the arms, hands, fingers, legs, and neck; a change in facial expression; difficulty in swallowing and shortness of breath; and impaired speech (dysarthria).
People can develop myasthenia gravis at any age. For unknown reasons, it is most commonly diagnosed in women younger than age 40 and men older than age 60. It is uncommon in children, but some infants born to women with myasthenia gravis have signs and symptoms of the condition for the first few days or weeks of life. This temporary occurrence of symptoms is called transient neonatal myasthenia gravis.
Myasthenia gravis is a type of autoimmune disorder. Autoimmune disorders occur when the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissue. In myasthenia gravis, the body produces antibodies that block the muscle cells that receive messages (neurotransmitters) from the nerve cells.
Normally when impulses travel down the nerve, the nerve endings release a neurotransmitter substance called acetylcholine. Acetylcholine travels from the neuromuscular junction - the place where nerve cells connect with the muscles they control - and binds to acetylcholine receptors which are activated and generate a muscle contraction. In myasthenia gravis, antibodies block, alter, or destroy the receptors for acetylcholine at the neuromuscular junction,which prevents the muscle contraction from occurring. These antibodies are produced by the body's own immune system.In some cases, myasthenia gravis it is linked to tumors or other abnormalities of the thymus (a gland the plays an important role in the immune system). Researchers also believe that variations in particular unidentified genes may increase the risk to develop myasthenia gravis. Ultimately, many factors likely contribute to the risk of developing this complex disorder.
You can also use the navigation menu on the left hand side of this page to view many additional resources on myasthenia gravis.
- Myasthenia Gravis Fact Sheet. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). July 27, 2015; http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/myasthenia_gravis/detail_myasthenia_gravis.htm.
- Kantor D. Myasthenia gravis. MedlinePlus. June 1, 2015; https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000712.htm.
- Myasthenia gravis. Genetics Home Reference (GHR). July 2012; http://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/condition/myasthenia-gravis.