Myasthenia gravis (say "MI-ess-thin-e-a GRAH-viss") is muscle weakness that often gets better when you rest and gets worse with activity. You can start the day feeling strong, but after a little activity, you find yourself feeling weak. It may be hard to talk or to keep your eyes focused, and your eyelids may droop.
This problem starts when the immune system attacks the body's own muscle cells. The immune system is supposed to fight off viruses and other germs, but sometimes it turns on the person's own body. (This is called autoimmune disease.) Myasthenia gravis most often affects the muscles that control eye and facial movement and those that help us chew and swallow.
Your doctor may prescribe medicine that can help improve your muscle weakness. The doctor may recommend that you have surgery to remove the thymus gland, which may improve your immune system problem and help you regain your strength. There are other treatments that can help if you have repeated periods of weakness. Some people have periods of time with mild or no symptoms. This is called remission.
Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.
How can you care for yourself at home?
- Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor if you think you are having a problem with your medicine.
- Some medicines can make your myesthenia gravis symptoms worse. If your symptoms get worse after you start a new medicine, tell your doctor.
- Make sure you are up to date on your vaccines. Ask your doctor which ones you need.
- If you have trouble swallowing your medicine, talk to your doctor about other ways to take it.
- Get plenty of rest. Plan your activities so that you have rest periods. It is better to go at a moderate pace with frequent rests than to be so active that you tire out easily.
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet.
- If you get double vision, talk to your doctor about wearing an eye patch.
- If you get tired while chewing, rest between bites. Try foods that are chopped, cooked, or softened. Eat several small meals throughout the day rather than 2 or 3 big meals.
- Avoid getting too hot, because heat seems to make symptoms worse.
- Consider joining a support group with other people who have myasthenia gravis. These groups can be a good source of information and tips for what to do. Your doctor can tell you how to contact a support group.
When should you call for help?
Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:
- You have severe trouble breathing.
Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:
- You have trouble swallowing.
- You are or think you may be pregnant and you have myasthenia gravis.
- You have double vision.
Where can you learn more?
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