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1. What is myasthenia gravis (MG)?
2. What causes MG?
3. Is this disease inherited? Can I pass it on to my children?
4. What is a thymus gland?
5. What is a thymoma?
6. How is MG treated?
7. What is the prognosis with MG?
8. What makes MG worse?
9. Are there medications I should not take if I have MG?
10. How do I find a doctor who treats MG?
11. Can I continue working with MG?
12. Can I exercise with MG?
13. What about alternative treatments and special diet?
14. Should I wear medical alert jewelry? What should it say?
15. What parts of this website are especially useful?
16. Can you help with the cost of medication or treatment?

1. What is myasthenia gravis (MG)?

Myasthenia gravis is a rare autoimmune disease. MG is caused by antibodies in the blood that block the normal communication between nerves and muscles, causing muscle weakness. This weakness worsens with activity and improves with rest.

The symptoms of MG fluctuate, vary in severity and occur in many combinations. Common symptoms include droopy eyelids; double or blurred vision; weak arms, hands, neck, face or legs. When severe, MG can result in difficulty chewing, smiling, swallowing, talking or breathing.

2. What causes MG?

MG results from abnormal immune system activity. Individuals with other auto-immune diseases or an abnormal thymus gland are more likely to have MG. Physicians suspect there may be a combination of factors that trigger the onset of MG symptoms in a susceptible individual, such as an infection or other illness.

3. Is this disease inherited? Can I pass it on to my children?

Generally, MG is not considered an inherited disease. However, if one family member has an autoimmune disease, it’s not unusual for other family members to also have an autoimmune disease. It is possible for a mother to pass a temporary form of MG to her newborn child. Rarely, the disease does occur in multiple family members.

4. What is a thymus gland?

The thymus gland lies in the chest area beneath the breastbone, and plays an important role in forming the body’s normal immune system during childhood. The gland is somewhat large in infants, grows gradually until puberty, and then gets smaller and is replaced by fatty tissue as a person ages. In some adults with myasthenia gravis, the thymus gland is abnormal and remains large.

The relationship between the thymus gland and myasthenia gravis is not yet fully understood. Scientists believe the thymus gland may give incorrect instructions to developing immune cells, resulting in the production of acetylcholine receptor antibodies.

5. What is a thymoma?

Some people with MG develop “thymomas” or tumors on the thymus gland. Generally thymomas are benign, but in rare cases they can become malignant. When a thymoma is discovered, surgery to remove it should be performed.

6. How is MG treated?

MG can be treated with drugs, surgery and other therapies—alone or in combination. Treatment decisions take into account the severity of your disease, which muscles are affected, your age, and other associated medical problems. Click here for details.

7. What is the prognosis with MG?

MG can’t be cured, but it can be treated. Many people with MG can live fairly normal lives. The first one to three years – when various symptoms appear – often are the most difficult. It can take time to work through various treatments to find what works best for you.

MG is called the “snowflake disease” because its symptoms differ for every patient. Symptoms come and go, and periods of remission – when you are symptom-free – are possible. However, there is no way to predict if you’ll achieve remission or how long it will last.

8. What makes MG worse?

These factors can make your MG symptoms temporarily worse: stress, lack of sleep, illness, overexertion, pain, extreme hot or cold (including outdoor temperatures, hot showers or baths, saunas, hot tubs, hot foods or beverages), and some chemicals (for instance, in insecticides and lawn treatments).

9. Are there medications I should not take if I have MG?

You should avoid drugs known to make MG symptoms worse, including certain antibiotics, beta blockers, calcium channel blockers, muscle relaxants and magnesium. The University of Illinois at Chicago College of Pharmacy offers details. You also can find a list of medications to avoid on the Myasthenia Gravis Foundation of America’s website at www.myasthenia.org.

Be sure to check with your primary MG doctor before taking any new medication, even over-the-counter drugs.

10. How do I find a doctor who treats MG?

Myasthenia gravis is a neuromuscular disease, so it’s best to see a neurologist for treatment. While Conquer MG can’t “recommend” a doctor, physicians on the Conquer MG Medical Advisory Board are very familiar with the disease and current treatment options.

If you live in another state, see if your state has its own MG chapter. They may have a list of neurologists who treat MG.

11. Can I continue working with MG?

Yes, however your ability to work depends on the severity of your MG and your job requirements. If your MG is active, you may need to talk to your employer to see if you can make temporary adjustments in workload, activities or hours. Some myasthenia patients apply for and receive Social Security disability benefits.

12. Can I exercise with MG?

The short answer is this: Exercise within your limits is absolutely recommended if you are able. Don’t exercise if you’re weak. Short sessions with breaks are better tolerated than longer sessions.

Start slow with walking or using an elliptical machine, and build gradually as you become stronger. Stop and rest as soon as you feel tired. Have another person with you or bring a cell phone, in case you run into trouble. It’s important to stop short of muscle fatigue, and this point will vary from person to person depending on age, overall fitness level, MG symptoms and other factors.

Because your symptoms can vary so much from day to day, it’s important to talk with your doctor about how and when to exercise. Together you can set up guidelines on how much exercise is healthy for you and under what circumstances you should attempt it.

13. What about alternative treatments and special diet?

Treatment for MG includes self-care: getting plenty of sleep, resting your body and eyes during the day, and pacing your activities. It involves good nutrition, stress management, and exercise, too.

Myasthenia patients, like everyone, should eat a healthy diet and maintain a healthy weight. Extra pounds make it harder to get around and aggravate other diseases. Even when medications like prednisone increase your appetite, it’s essential to focus on a healthy diet with lots of fruit, vegetables, whole grains and reasonable portions.

Avoid magnesium supplements unless prescribed and monitored by your doctor, since magnesium can worsen MG symptoms. Check with your neurologist before taking any supplements or alternative medications, including over-the-counter drugs, because they can affect your MG and interact in a bad way with other medications.

14. Should I wear medical alert jewelry? What should it say?

Many myasthenia patients make a personal decision to wear medical alert jewelry such as a bracelet or necklace. At minimum, a medication card in your wallet or purse should clearly indicate “Myasthenia Gravis” and include your name, date of birth, a family member telephone number, MG doctor, and medical conditions.

15. What parts of this website are especially useful?

Have you looked at these sections?

Life with MG – offers tips on nutrition, exercise, travel, wallet cards and vision aids.

We Can Help – lists financial aid sources for health care and medication, as well as newsletter back issues, YouTube links to informational videos, and great chat room sites.

16. Can you help with the cost of medication or treatment?

Conquer Myasthenia Gravis offers a Patient Assistance Program for MG patients who reside in Illinois or Indiana and who experience financial hardship. Some pharmaceutical companies help cover the cost of their medications if you have financial need.