Myasthenia gravis is a skeletal muscle disorder; skeletal muscles are the ones that you use for movement of your body. The first and the most commonly affected muscles are the muscles that are present around the eyes. Due to this there is drooping of your eyelids (also called as ptosis). There is also problem in coordination of movements of the eyes and this leads to blurring of vision and maybe double vision (also called diplopia). Muscles of the neck and face are also affected. Due to involvement of facial muscles, the patient has unusual facial expressions, dysarthria (speech impairment), difficulty in chewing and difficulty in swallowing (dysphagia). Due to this the patient may suffer from choking, drooling or gagging.
Are You Born With Myasthenia Gravis?
Myasthenia gravis is a kind of an autoimmune disorder. Autoimmune disorders are the ones where your body produces antibodies against the body’s own tissues and hence the tissues get attacked by the body itself. These antibodies then bind to certain proteins that are necessary for transmission of signals in the nerves. Due to this binding, the nerve impulses are not transmitted properly to the muscles.
Normally antibodies are supposed to bind to foreign bodies that enter the body like bacteria and viruses so that they can be destroyed. In myasthenia gravis, the antibodies mostly attack a specific protein named acetylcholine receptor (AChR). In a few cases a different protein named muscle-specific kinase (MuSK) may also be affected.
Both men and women can be affected by myasthenia gravis. The most common age group affected is below 40 years of age in females and above 60 years of age in males. However, there is no specific age group and it can affect you at any age. It is not an inherited disorder.
There is a condition called as neonatal myasthenia. In this condition, the fetus acquires attacking antibodies from its mother who is a diagnosed case of myasthenia gravis. Neonatal myasthenia is a temporary illness and it disappears after two to three months of birth of the baby.
Sometimes the baby may suffer with congenital myasthenia. It is a congenital disease and it is seen in babies who are born to a healthy mother. In this case, it is no longer an autoimmune disorder. The genes of the baby are defective and this leads to production of abnormal proteins that hamper the neuromuscular transmission of signals.
So, to summarize, mostly you are not born with myasthenia gravis but there are two conditions due to which you may be born with it. These conditions are neonatal myasthenia and congenital myasthenia. Amongst these, neonatal myasthenia disappears as the baby attains the age of two to three months. (1)
Symptoms Of Myasthenia Gravis
Mostly, the voluntary muscles of the body are affected. There is improper flow of signals to the muscles through the nerves because of binding of antibodies to acetylcholine receptors. This leads to failure of response from the muscles even after trying to perform an action. The muscles fail to contract because of blockage in the transmission of nerve impulses from the nerve to the muscles. The symptoms worsen as the patient performs more and more physical activities and the symptoms improve as the patient takes rest and decreases physical activity.
The symptoms of myasthenia gravis are first seen in the muscles of the eyes. Following are the symptoms of myasthenia gravis:
- Ptosis (drooping of unilateral or bilateral eyelids)
- Unusual facial expressions
- Blurring of vision
- Double vision (diplopia)
- Difficulty in swallowing (dysphagia)
- Difficulty in chewing
- Difficulty in breathing or shortness of breath (breathlessness)
- Dysarthria (impairment of speech)
- Weakness in arms (limb weakness is seen as first sign of the disease in only 10% of patients)
- Weakness in legs causing problem while walking upstairs or while lifting objects
- Weakness in hands
- Weakness in fingers
- Facial paralysis
- Hoarseness of voice (2)
Mostly a person is not born with myasthenia gravis. There are only two situations in which the patient is born with myasthenia gravis. These conditions are neonatal myasthenia and congenital myasthenia. Neonatal myasthenia is seen in babies born to a mother who already has myasthenia gravis. Neonatal myasthenia is a temporary illness and it mostly resolves when the baby attains the age of two to three months. On the other hand congenital myasthenia occurs due to a defect in the gene and is present forever in the patient.
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