Section two in my articles about Myasthenia Gravis focused on Ocular MG. This section is about generalized Myasthenia Gravis. However, the majority of patients with generalized MG also have ocular MG. I am hoping to help my fellow snowflakes and those who care about them. My articles are also geared toward nurses and allied health care workers. Unless a healthcare provider works in this specialty, they may only see this disease once or perhaps not at all.
Autoimmune MG is an acquired disorder. Acetylcholine receptor antibodies attack the neuromuscular junction causing muscle weakness throughout the body. The severity of the disease and the muscles effected vary from person to person and from day to day. This is why the nickname for this illness is the Snowflake Disease. All voluntary muscle groups can be effected. We do not know what causes MG.
With MG, muscle weakness worsens with activity and improves with rest. When someone presents with the symptoms of MG, the doctor will probably order an anti acetylcholine receptor antibody blood test. This test will show antibodies that attack acetylcholine receptor sites.
Another test is the Tensilon test. This is given intravenously.. During he test, acetylcholine acts on the receptors. If an individual has Myasthenia Gravis, they will show improved muscle strength in response to this test. A positive test leads to a diagnosis of MG
Through a repetitive nerve stimulation test, a neurologist can diagnosis MG by looking at patterns. Another test, the single fiber EMG, is helpful for patients who have had negative results with other tests.
A CT scan of the thymus will probably be administered. 15% of people with Myasthenia Gravis have a thymoma, a tumor of the thymus gland.
I also discussed the above tests in Section Two when I focused on Occular MG. The doctor will probably order consultations with a variety of specialists. A Neurologist will hopefully be leading the treatment team. He will begin with a physical exam. This exam will vary depending on which muscles are fatigued. The eyes will be observed. The ability to open and close eyes will be tested. Hand grips and the ability to raise arms will be measured. Leg strength will be tested. Shallowness of breath and speech difficulty will be observed.
A Pulmonologist will probably be needed for those times when the breathing muscles are weakened. A Neuro opthamologist will be very helpful for eye and vision issues. Neuro opthamology is a unique specialty that may not be available to all patients. An ENT may needed to assess speech problems. Social services may be needed to assess what tasks a person needs help with. Physical and Pulmonary therapy must be chosen with extreme care. These specialists must be aware of what Myasthenia Gravis is. If an MG patient is pushed to increase activity and exercise, they will usually get worse. This is the opposite of what most other conditions need. A psychotherapist who is familiar with chronic illness issues may be needed. The inactivity and isolation caused by this disease can easily lead to depression. There may also be consultations and diagnostic tests ordered to rule out other diseases. This will vary from person to person.
Once the diagnosis has been completed, treatment begins. Self care will be the first line of defense. A healthy diet, high in potassium, will help decrease weakness. Lots of rest is needed. Over exertion causes weakness to increase. Weather effects MG. Hot weather and cold weather make symptoms worse. A medical alert bracelet or an information card can be very helpful.
For those 15% of MG patients with a thymoma, a thymectomy (surgical removal of the thymus) may be chosen.
Most people will be started out with an Anticholinesterase drug. Pyridostigmine bromide (Mestinon) is one of the drugs in this group. This is not a cure for Myasthenia Gravis. It can provide a short term boost in strength and energy. Tolerance for Mestinon is diagnostic in itself. If someone does not have MG, they will have abdominal illness in response to taking Mestinon. Dosages and frequency vary from person to person. Dosages will probably change for the same patient from time to time.
Many long term treatments may be tried in an attempt to get a remission. Immunosuppressive drugs are often used to treat Myasthenia Gravis. Some of these drugs are Imuran, Cellcept, Cytoxin, Cyclosporine, and Prednisone. These medicines are each unique. The doctor will decide which medication is best for particular patients.
A temporary treatment is Plasmapheresis (Plasma Exchange). In this procedure, both “good and bad” antibodies are removed. The cells are returned in artificial plasma. This is usually done once per day for five days in a row. The patient usually feels better a few days after treatment. The benefit lasts for a few weeks. This is very helpful for emergencies. It is not recommended as repeated long term treatment.
IVIG is another temporary treatment. Gamma globulin is administered via an IV, over a period of sveral hours This therapy may occur in a hospital, an infusion center, or a patient’s home. IVIG is thought to suppress the immune system and increase muscle strength.
The above are common tests and treatments for people with Myasthenia Gravis. My purpose in writing this series is to help. Perhaps on patient, caregiver, student, or healthcare worker will be helped by my information. These first three sections have been objective and factual. Section Four will be subjective. I will be writing about my personal journey as a Myasthenia Gravis patient.
Sources: The Myasthenia Gravis Foundation of America, Myasthenia Gravis Foundation of California, Eye Wiki American Academy of Ophthamology, Conquer MG of Il, Fellow Snowflakes, My treatment team members