June is Myasthenia Gravis Awareness Month!
Myasthenia Gravis is a chronic autoimmune neuromuscular disease characterized by varying degrees of weakness of the skeletal (voluntary) muscles of the body.
The name myasthenia gravis, which is Latin and Greek in origin, literally means "grave muscle weakness." With current therapies, however, most cases of myasthenia gravis are not as "grave" as the name implies. In fact, most individuals with myasthenia gravis have a normal life expectancy.
The hallmark of myasthenia gravis is muscle weakness that increases during periods of activity and improves after periods of rest. Certain muscles such as those that control eye and eyelid movement, facial expression, chewing, talking, and swallowing are often, but not always, involved in the disorder. The muscles that control breathing and neck and limb movements may also be affected. The onset of the disorder may be sudden and symptoms often are not immediately recognized as myasthenia gravis.
In most cases, the first noticeable symptom is weakness of the eye muscles. In others, difficulty in swallowing and slurred speech may be the first signs. The degree of muscle weakness involved in myasthenia gravis varies greatly among individuals, ranging from a localized form limited to eye muscles (ocular myasthenia), to a severe or generalized form in which many muscles — sometimes including those that control breathing — are affected.
Symptoms, which vary in type and severity, may include a drooping of one or both eyelids (ptosis), blurred or double vision (diplopia), unstable or waddling gait, trouble swallowing, shortness of breath, and more.
With treatment, most individuals with myasthenia can significantly improve their muscle weakness. Some cases of myasthenia gravis may go into remission, either temporarily or permanently, and muscle weakness may disappear completely so that medications can be discontinued.
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