Myasthenia gravis is a rare long-term condition that causes muscle weakness. See your GP if you have persistent or worrying symptoms that could be caused by myasthenia gravis.
About myasthenia gravis
Myasthenia gravis most commonly affects the muscles that control the eyes and eyelids, facial expressions, chewing, swallowing and speaking.
But it can affect most parts of the body.
It can affect people of any age, typically starting in women under 40 and men over 60.
Symptoms of myasthenia gravis
Common symptoms of myasthenia gravis include:
- droopy eyelids
- double vision
- difficulty making facial expressions
- problems with chewing and difficulty swallowing
- slurred speech
- weak arms, legs or neck
- shortness of breath and occasionally serious difficulty breathing
The symptoms tend to get worse when you're tired. Many people find they are worse towards the end of the day, and better the next morning after getting some sleep.
When to see your GP
See your GP if you have persistent or worrying symptoms that could be caused by myasthenia gravis.
They will ask about your symptoms and medical history.
If your GP thinks you could have a condition like myasthenia gravis, they may refer you to a specialist for tests. This is to help diagnose the condition or look for other possible causes of your symptoms.
These tests may include a blood test, a test of how well your nerves are working and some scans.
Treatments for myasthenia gravis
Several treatments are available to help keep the symptoms of myasthenia gravis under control.
- avoiding anything that triggers the symptoms – some people find that things such as tiredness and stress make their symptoms worse
- medication to help improve muscle weakness
- surgery to remove the thymus gland (a small gland in the chest linked to myasthenia gravis)
If the symptoms get suddenly worse, for example, you develop severe difficulty breathing or swallowing , you may need urgent treatment in hospital.
Outlook for myasthenia gravis
Myasthenia gravis is a long-term condition. It typically has phases when it improves and phases when it gets worse.
It usually affects most of the body, spreading from the eyes and face to other areas over weeks, months or years. But in around one in five people, only the eye muscles are affected.
Treatment can usually help keep the symptoms under control. Very occasionally, the condition can get better on its own.
The condition can be life-threatening in severe cases. But it doesn't have a significant impact on life expectancy for most people.
Cause of myasthenia gravis
Myasthenia gravis is caused by a problem with the signals sent between the nerves and the muscles.
It's an autoimmune condition. This means it's the result of the immune system (the body's natural defence against illness and infection) mistakenly attacking a healthy part of the body.
In myasthenia gravis, the immune system damages the communication system between the nerves and muscles, making the muscles weak and easily tired.
It's not clear why this happens. But it has been linked to issues with the thymus gland (a gland in the chest that's part of the immune system).
More useful links
The information on this page has been adapted from original content from the NHS website.
For further information see terms and conditions.