Myasthenia gravis is an autoimmune disease that weakens the muscles that control swallowing and your ability to move parts of your body like your arms, legs, and eyes. There’s no cure for it, but there are many things you can do to help your symptoms and live a full life as you and your doctor work toward remission.
Meet with your health care team to see which of these treatments is best for you. Treatment depends on how long you’ve had myasthenia gravis, as well as your age and your overall health. Your doctor might suggest one of these options alone -- or several together -- to ease your symptoms.
Several types of drugs can improve your MG symptoms.
- Cholinesterase inhibitors. Often used to treat mild forms of myasthenia gravis, these drugs help your muscles talk to your nerves. They stop the breakdown of the chemical acetylcholine so muscles can contract more easily and grow stronger. The one most often prescribed is pyridostigmine (Mestinon). Side effects can include diarrhea, nausea, cramps, twitching, and sweatiness.
- Immunosuppressive drugs. If you keep having symptoms, your doctor may suggest adding corticosteroids (such as prednisone) or other drugs like azathioprine and cyclosporine. These help muscles get stronger by keeping your immune system from being overly active. They also prevent your body from making the harmful antibodies that trigger muscle weakness. But they also keep your body from making good antibodies that your body needs to keep it safe.
Using these drugs for a long time can cause serious side effects such as weight gain, thinning bones, liver or kidney damage, and increased risk of infection.
Get IVIG Therapy
If your symptoms get suddenly worse or your disease is severe, the doctor might suggest intravenous immunoglobulin, or IVIG therapy. You’ll get a human blood product called immunoglobulin through a needle in a vein. This gives you normal antibodies to help your immune system. You should see results in a few days with benefits lasting for several weeks. Side effects are usually mild and can include headaches, dizziness, chills, and retaining fluid.
Try Blood Plasma Exchange
During this procedure, which is also called plasmapheresis, your blood is slowly removed through a special IV line. The process takes out antibodies (proteins) from your blood and returns the filtered blood to your body along with proteins to replace the ones that were removed. You’ll get this treatment if you have severe symptoms or need to boost your strength before surgery. It’s expensive and takes several hours, but it does offer relief for a few weeks. Side effects can include dizziness, allergic reactions, bleeding, cramps, and heart rhythm problems.
Have Thymectomy Surgery
Your doctor may suggest surgery to remove your thymus gland. Located in your upper chest, it’s often abnormal in people who have myasthenia gravis. A thymectomy often can ease symptoms. It’s a common treatment for people who have a tumor in the thymus gland, called a thymoma. Surgery may cure some people. It may take several months or years for you to notice benefits after surgery.
Things in your everyday life can also trigger myasthenia gravis symptoms. Learn what makes your pain worse and avoid those things if you can. Some common triggers include:
- Certain medications
Make smart lifestyle choices like eating healthy food, exercising, getting plenty of sleep, and finding ways to relax and manage stress.