The Gravity of Weak Muscles

Myasthenia gravis awareness month stresses diagnosis and research for chronic condition

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) We may think weak muscles can be fixed by hitting the gym, but for people with a disease called myasthenia gravis, weak muscles are a harder problem to solve.

June is Myasthenia Gravis Awareness Month and organizers are aiming to increase awareness and understanding of the disease.

"Speak to a doctor if you notice weakness in the eye muscles."

The term myasthenia gravis (MG) means "grave muscle weakness" and the condition can affect a wide range of muscles in the body.

According to the Myasthenia Gravis Foundation of America (MGFA), this neuromuscular disorder affects voluntary muscles, ranging from those involved in eye movements, chewing, swallowing, facial expressions, leg movements and even breathing.

Because symptoms can involve many areas of the body and may be similar to symptoms of other conditions, myasthenia gravis can be difficult to diagnose.

Difficulties with eye movements are often a first signal for the condition. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), a variety of tests may need to be performed before diagnosis, including blood tests, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and tests to evaluate nerve-to-muscle transmission.

The MGFA reports that an estimated 70,000 people in the US are thought to have myasthenia gravis, but that this is likely a low estimate due to under-diagnosis of the disease.

Men and women of all ethnic groups and ages can be affected by myasthenia gravis. However, according to the NINDS, it is most common in women under 40 years old and men over 60 years old.

There is currently no known cure for myasthenia gravis, but there are effective treatments available to help these patients, including a variety of medications and therapies.

Some patients benefit from medicines that bolster muscle strength and improve communication between the nerves and the muscles or medicines that suppress abnormal activities in the immune system.

The NINDS reports that other patients benefit from a procedure called thymectomy, in which the thymus gland is removed. This gland is often abnormal in MG patients.

In other cases, patients receive treatments like plasmapheresis, in which abnormal antibodies are removed from the blood, or high-dose intravenous immune globulin, which treats problems in the immune system by using the antibodies from donated blood.

According to the NINDS, “With treatment, most individuals with myasthenia can significantly improve their muscle weakness and lead normal or nearly normal lives.”

Some patients may enter into temporary or permanent periods of remission, during which medications and therapies can be stopped.

The MGFA hopes that with increased public knowledge and awareness during June, timely diagnosis and proper care for patients are encouraged and improved upon.

“A key priority for MGFA is to raise funds for research to find a cure and improve treatments for those with this disease. There is much that can be done, but still much to understand,” the MFGA noted.

The recognition of Myasthenia Gravis Awareness Month is an annual event, and June 2013 marks its thirteenth observance.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
June 5, 2013
Last Updated:
August 7, 2013