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What is Adult-Onset Myasthenia Gravis?

written by: Kathy Foust • edited by: Leigh A. Zaykoski • updated: 7/30/2009

Since most terms that are used in the medical field are based on Latin, many people have problems understanding what the diagnosis means. This article puts adult-onset myasthenia gravis into a language that is easily understood by those without a medical background.

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    What is Adult Onset Myasthenia Gravis?

    It can be intimidating to hear doctors give you a diagnosis when you have no idea what they just said. Most of us didn't attend medical school and are confused by the terminology used. The purpose of this article is to explain adult onset myasthenia gravis so that the average person can understand what it is they are dealing with.

    To begin with, know that nerve impulses send signals to the muscles that let the muscle know what it should be doing. In this disorder however, there is an autoimmune issue that causes antibodies to intercept and block that signal so that it never reaches the muscle. Think of the antibodies as bodyguards standing at the gate of the muscle. They are jamming the communication signal and in the end, the muscle doesn't hear what it is supposed to do.

    This condition usually takes place in fully grown adults. There are treatments available such as removal of the thymus gland, which may have developed an abnormality that causes these antibodies to act in an unhealthy manner.

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    Symptoms

    This condition is frequently misdiagnosed simply because the symptoms correspond with so many other symptoms of other conditions. Therefore, the individual may have this condition for years before it is correctly diagnosed. Signs and symptoms of myasthenia gravis include the following:

    • Early muscle fatigue. For someone who is normally active, they may notice that their muscles become tired much faster than normal. They will also notice that after a brief rest, the muscles are feeling normal again.
    • Suddenly weak eye and facial muscles
    • Difficulty swallowing
    • Slurred speech
    • Blurred or double vision
    • Abnormal lack of strength in arms, fingers, legs and neck
    • Shortness of breath
    • Change in facial expression

    Many of these symptoms can easily be attributed to some other illness. But, rest assured that once diagnosed, this condition has a high success rate of treatment. In fact, there is no reason to think that a life span will be shortened by this condition as long as it is correctly diagnosed and treatment is done in the manner prescribed.

    Some of the treatments for this condition include oral medication, removal of the thymus and blood work that involves replacing the defective antibodies with healthy antibodies that will allow the signal to pass from the nerve to the muscle. So, while this condition may seem "grave" and scary, in all reality it is easily treated once it is properly diagnosed.

    References:National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke