Myasthenia gravis is a progressive neuromuscular disease characterized by chronic fatigue and muscular weakness. It is a disorder affecting the neuromuscular junction, the space between the nerve and the muscle.
Myasthenia gravis is a chronic autoimmune disorder. This means that the condition is life long where the body begins to attack or target its own tissues. Autoimmune disorders result when the human immune system which normally functions only to seek out and destroy harmful pathogens such as viruses or bacteria mistakes some of its own cells as harmful and begins to target them.
Antibodies target the neurotransmitter receptors for acetylcholine at the neuromuscular junction. This causes intermittent or failure in the transmission of the neurochemical messages travelling down the nerves from the brain to the muscle . This results in transient motor weakness in muscles such as the face and limbs.
There are currently four treatment options for this disorder:
- enhancement of neuromuscular transmission with anticholinesterase agents
- surgical thymectomy (removal of the thymus, in effort todecrease the body’s destructive autoimmune respsonse and induce remission of the disease )
- immunosuppression (involves the use of immunosupressant drugs to dampen the body’s overall immune response and subsequent autoimmune response)
- short-term immunotherapies, including plasma exchange and intravenous immune globulin.
Drachman, Daniel, B. 1994. Medical Progress: Myasthenia Gravis. New England Journal of Medicine. 330: 1797-1810.