What Is Myasthenia Gravis: Discover More About This Autoimmune Condition

muscle weakness in the arm

Story at-a-glance -

  • Myasthenia gravis is a chronic autoimmune condition that causes weakness and fatigue in your voluntary muscles
  • There are a few types of myasthenia gravis you can develop, which are named according to which part of your body is affected the most
  • If you notice any sudden muscle weakness in your limbs, neck or face, visit a doctor immediately

Myasthenia gravis is a chronic autoimmune condition that causes weakness and fatigue in your voluntary muscles. Its name has Latin and Greek origins, and roughly translates to “grave muscle weakness.”1

Voluntary muscles (also known as skeletal muscles) are the most common muscle type in your body, taking their name from the fact that you can voluntarily control them. Examples include muscles in your arms, legs and other limbs.

When you experience sudden weakness in this muscle group, you most likely have myasthenia gravis.2 The disease occurs when your immune system attacks the neurotransmitter receptor sites in your voluntary muscles.

Neurotransmitters are chemicals produced by your nerves to signal muscles to move according to your brain’s instructions, and the receptor sites are the destinations the neurotransmitters go to when receiving instructions from the brain.3

Symptoms of Myasthenia Gravis and How It Is Diagnosed

There are several ways you can identify myasthenia gravis, depending on which part is affected. Areas that are commonly plagued by this condition include:4

Eyes

One or both eyelids may become droopy, which can lead to double vision. This may improve over time when one eyelid regains muscle control.

Face

Many important functions in your face that require muscle movement can become affected. You may notice that your speech has changed, or you may have difficulty chewing or swallowing food. In some instances, you may have problems making facial expressions.

Limbs

Your limbs may experience difficulty performing basic functions, causing mobility and balance issues. You may also become more fatigued than usual.5

The Different Types of Myasthenia Gravis

There are a few types of myasthenia gravis you can develop, which are named according to which part of your body is affected the most:6

Generalized myasthenia gravis: This affects multiple muscles at the same time, such as the legs, muscles and torso.

Ocular myasthenia gravis: This condition occurs when only your eye movement is affected.

Facial myasthenia gravis: Generally affecting the facial area, this type causes difficulties in speaking, swallowing and chewing. Facial expressions may be hard to create as well.7

Myasthenic crisis: This occurs when the muscles responsible for breathing are affected. It can be life-threatening if you don’t get treatment right away; hence, the name.8

Congenital myasthenia gravis: A newborn baby can be affected with this disease, causing generalized symptoms.

Transient neonatal myasthenia gravis: A newborn child can temporarily inherit myasthenia gravis if the mother has the disease while giving birth. Once the antibodies causing the disease are gone, the child will get better, typically a few weeks after birth.

Myasthenia Gravis Can Be Confused With Other Diseases

If you notice any sudden muscle weakness in your limbs, neck or face, visit a doctor immediately. Myasthenia gravis can be confused with other diseases that produce similar symptoms, such as Lambert-Eaton Syndrome, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy and chronic fatigue syndrome.9

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