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There is no cure for this chronic disease, however, myasthenia gravis treatments can help manage symptoms and improve a patient's quality of life. A neurologist may recommend a combination of different medications and therapies. Some patients may also require surgery. Myasthenia gravis treatments are tailored to each individual patient's needs, so there is no single best course of medical care.
Patients with this autoimmune disease tend to suffer from muscle weakness that can affect chewing and swallowing. It may also cause slurred speech, impaired eye movements, and problems moving the limbs. The severity of myasthenia gravis varies from patient to patient.
Many myasthenia gravis treatments are aimed at improving muscle strength and the way in which muscles and nerves interact. For example, cholinesterase inhibitors, such as pyridostigmine, can improve the communication between the patient's muscles and nerves. This allows him or her to gain strength and makes the muscles contract more effectively.
Some patients may benefit from short-term corticosteroid use. A doctor may include this type of steroid drug in the arsenal of myasthenia gravis treatments to inhibit the immune system. This limits the amount of antibodies the body produces, which is helpful because myasthenia gravis is an autoimmune disease. These types of illnesses are characterized by an overactive immune system that attacks itself.
Since corticosteroids should not be used on a long-term basis due to potential serious side effects, myasthenia gravis treatments may also include immunosuppressants. These medications also restrict the activity of the immune system. Some examples are cyclosporine, mycophenolate, and azathioprine.
Immunosuppressants can also carry the risk of serious side effects, however. Patients should be aware that they are associated with liver damage and infertility, as well as an increased possibility of infection and cancer. People taking corticosteroids instead of immunosuppressants should understand that they may develop weight gain, diabetes, and infections, as well as bone thinning. Cholinesterase inhibitors may also cause side effects, such as stomach upset, frequent urination, and excessive salivation.
Other myasthenia gravis treatments may include intravenous immune globulin. This type of therapy introduces normal antibodies into a patient. It may take up to one to two weeks to notice any results, and patients will need to repeat the therapy every month for continuous protection. The side effects are typically mild, such as headaches, dizziness, and chills.
Patients may also consider undergoing a process similar to dialysis, called plasmapheresis. Blood is taken out of the body, filtered through a machine to remove abnormal antibodies, and then returned to the body. The effects from this treatment may only last a few weeks. If patients undergo this therapy repeatedly, it may become increasingly difficult for the nurse to access a vein. Other possible side effects include a drop in blood pressure, bleeding, and allergic reaction.
In a percentage of patients with this autoimmune disorder, a tumor develops in the thymus gland. The doctor will likely recommend surgery to remove the gland and the tumor. This procedure is called a thymectomy.
Patients need to work closely with their doctors to develop a plan of treatment that works best for them. They may need to experiment with different combinations of medications or therapies. In addition to drugs, patients may also evaluate their daily habits. Revamping a daily routine to expend less energy whenever possible may help patients cope.