It’s not a common household word, or a name that spends a lot of time in the limelight, but myasthenia gravis (MG) is an autoimmune neuromuscular disorder that affects approximately 20 out of 100,000 people in the US. According to experts at the Myasthenia Gravis Foundation of America (MGFA), this disease is “considered under-diagnosed and the prevalence is thought to be much higher.” With June being Myasthenia Gravis Awareness month, our goal is to help inform the public about the disease by sharing verified facts and resources for further information.
The name myasthenia gravis, which is Latin and Greek in origin, literally means “grave muscle weakness.” It is often referred to as “the snowflake disease” because no two cases are identical. The degree of muscle weakness and general symptoms vary greatly from patient to patient, but common signs include drooping of the eyelid, blurred or double vision, slurred speech, and difficulty chewing or swallowing. The neuromuscular disorder is caused by a breakdown in the normal communication between nerves and muscles, and muscle weakness tends to worsen as the affected muscle is used repeatedly. While MG can affect people at any age regardless of gender or ethnicity, women most commonly experience first symptoms in their 20s and 30s while men are generally affected later in their 70s or older. Avoiding stress and having a well-balanced diet can help improve conditions.
There is still a lot to be learned about the disease, and research is ongoing. Scientists are uncertain about its exact cause and, as of now, there is no cure. But effective treatments allow many patients to lead full lives, and it’s even possible for cases to go into remission, during which no treatment is necessary. The Dana Foundation published a Report on Progress about the recent “revolution in neuroimmunology,” which led to the discovery of a new class of nervous system disorders. In it, experts explain how diseases [like myasthenia gravis] challenge the traditional view of the central nervous system as immune-protected.
The MGFA has chapters throughout the country that offer support groups, volunteer programs serving patients, and supports work towards the ultimate goal of finding a cure. In this video, made by their Georgia chapter, MG patients talk about what it’s like living with the disease:
For more information on the disease, visit the MGFA website, and be sure to help spread the word on social media with #ihaveheardofMG.
– Seimi Rurup