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Neurology and Neuroscience

Myasthenia Gravis

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About Myasthenia Gravis

Myasthenia gravis (MG) is a rare autoimmune disease in which the immune system interferes with the transmission of nerve impulses to the muscles. People with myasthenia gravis develop severe, sometimes life-threatening, weakness. Patients benefit from the care of physicians who have extensive experience treating myasthenia gravis.

Medical Treatment for Myasthenia Gravis

Doctors have several treatment options for controlling myasthenia gravis.

  • Anticholinesterase medications (neostigmine and pyridostigmine) can enhance the transmission of nerve impulses and increase muscle strength.
  • Drugs that suppress the immune system (prednisone, mycophenylate, and azathioprine) can suppress myasthenia gravis disease activity, but can make patients more susceptible to other diseases and have potentially serious side effects, so doctors follow patients taking immunosuppressants very carefully.
  • Patients with myasthenia gravis who experience periods of extreme weakness may undergo a procedure called plasmapheresis, during which doctors filter abnormal antibodies from the blood, or a treatment called high-dose intravenous immune globulin (IVIg), in which patients receive purified pooled immunoglobulin.
  • Surgical Treatment for Myasthenia Gravis

    The thymus, an immune-system organ under the breast bone, is implicated in the development of myasthenia gravis, but its role is not well understood. Doctors often treat myasthenia gravis by removing the thymus (a procedure called a thymectomy). Symptoms improve in as many as 70 percent of patients who have undergone thymectomy, and it may lead to a cure in some of these patients. These improvements may occur months to years after surgery. Thymectomy is most effective in those under age 60 and early in the course of the disease.

    Research for Myasthenia Gravis

    Researchers at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia are participating in clinical studies to define the most effective role of thymectomy in myasthenia gravis treatment.

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