Myasthenia gravis (MG) is a neuromuscular disease that weakens different muscles in the body.
Michael Cartwright, MD, a Wake Forest Baptist Health physician with expertise in neuromuscular diseases, answers common questions about MG.
We know that myasthenia gravis is not an easily diagnosed disease, because the most common symptoms can also indicate other issues. How are most patients diagnosed with MG?
Most patients have a set of symptoms, and a lack of other symptoms, and when they are considered together they point physicians, and neurologists in particular, toward the diagnosis of MG. To confirm the diagnosis there are a variety of tests, including blood work and electrical tests of nerves and muscles.
What are patients' biggest concerns when faced with a diagnosis and how do you reassure them?
Patients are often initially concerned because it is a disease with which they are not familiar. So education about the disease, and the treatment options, helps during the first visit. The other issue that concerns patients with MG is the idea of having an MG crisis. A crisis occurs when the symptoms of MG dramatically worsen, and it concerns patients because, on occasion, it can happen rapidly. However, there are usually warning signs, and treating MG makes patients much less likely to ever experience a crisis.
What are the likely courses of treatment recommended today for myasthenia gravis? Does this differ much from years past?
Several decades ago, there were no treatments for MG, which made it a life-threatening condition. Over the past few decades, treatment with medications that suppress the immune system and control the symptoms of MG have been developed. MG is now a very treatable disease. Most of these treatments are medications that are taken by mouth, but some intravenous treatments are also used.
Statistics show more people being diagnosed with myasthenia gravis, probably because it is more widely recognized and people are getting better about reporting symptoms of muscle weakness. What do you see as the future in treatment of MG?
We now have several options to successfully treat and control MG, so in the future I think we will focus on determining which treatments are the best and have the fewest side effects. This may differ for each patient, so we will be studying how to choose treatments based on each patient's unique situation.
You encouraged one of your patients to form a support group for people with MG. How does a support group help?
Having a myasthenia gravis support group is a great asset for patients. It allows them to discuss their disease with others in the same situation, which helps them understand their condition better. Since MG is treatable, it also allows patients that were just diagnosed with the disease to meet other patients that have been leading active lives with MG for many years.