Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

An electromyography may be used to diagnose myasthenia gravis.

An electromyography may be used to diagnose myasthenia gravis.
beginning of content

Myasthenia gravis

2-minute read

Myasthenia gravis is a rare disease. Its main symptom is muscle weakness. Myasthenia gravis can’t be cured but treatments are available to help manage the symptoms.

What is myasthenia gravis?

Myasthenia gravis is a disease of the neuromuscular system. It is caused by a breakdown in communication between your nerves and muscles.

The name of the disease comes from the Greek ‘myasthenia’, meaning muscle weakness, and the Latin ‘gravis’, meaning severe.

Causes of myasthenia gravis

Myasthenia gravis is an autoimmune disease. This means it is caused by your body’s immune system.

People with myasthenia gravis are more likely than others to have relatives with other autoimmune diseases, such as Graves' disease, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.

Babies can also get a form of myasthenia gravis from their mothers. This is usually temporary.

It is not really understood why some people get autoimmune diseases and not others.

Myasthenia gravis symptoms

Myasthenia gravis often begins in your eye muscles or elsewhere on your face. It can make it hard to control your eye and eyelid movements, and to talk, chew and swallow.

The symptoms can appear suddenly or take weeks to develop. They might come and go.

Some people find:

  • it hard to walk normally
  • their arms, hands, fingers, legs or neck are weak
  • the expression on their face changes
  • they feel short of breath
  • they have trouble swallowing

If you notice any of these symptoms, see your doctor.

Most people with myasthenia gravis say that the muscle weakness is often worse when they are active and improves after they rest.

The disease can affect the muscles that control breathing in some people.

Myasthenic crisis is a medical emergency that develops when the breathing control muscles are severely weakened. It is usually triggered by an infection, emotional stress, or a bad reaction to medication.

Myasthenia gravis diagnosis

Your doctor might talk to you and examine you. You might have some tests to confirm a diagnosis, such as:

  • a blood test
  • electromyography (a test that measures muscle function)
  • injection of the drug Tensilon to see its effect on muscle strength
  • imaging such as a chest X-ray, a CT scan or an MRI, to look for abnormalities in the thymus gland (a small gland in your upper chest)

Myasthenia gravis treatment

Myasthenia gravis is one of the most treatable neuromuscular disorders. Common treatments include:

  • medicines to improve muscle strength or inhibit the immune system
  • treatment to filter the blood through a machine
  • surgery to remove the thymus gland

Often, a combination of treatments are used.

Last reviewed: January 2018

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Myaesthenia gravis information | myVMC

Myasthenia gravis is a rare autoimmune disease that causes muscle weakness. Symptoms include difficulty swallowing, drooping eyelids and double vision.

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

What is myasthenia gravis?

Myasthenia gravis is a chronic autoimmune neuromuscular disease characterized by varying degrees of weakness of the skeletal (voluntary) muscles of the body.

Read more on Autoimmune Resource and Research Centre website

Brain Foundation | Myasthenia Gravis

Myasthenia Gravis Myasthenia Gravis Read More at Virtual Medical Centre Description The distinctive feature of myasthenia gravis is muscle weakness that increases during periods of activity and improves after rest

Read more on Brain Foundation website

Myasthenia gravis - myDr.com.au

Myasthenia gravis is a chronic muscle disease that produces weakness and abnormally rapid fatigue of the voluntary muscles.

Read more on myDr website

Myasthenia Gravis

Read more on Queensland Health website

Autoimmune diseases - Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA)

Autoimmune diseases are a broad range of related diseases in which a persons immune system produces an inappropriate response against its own cells, tissues and/or organs. This results in inflammation and damage. There are over 80 different autoimmune diseases, ranging from common to very rare. These diseases can be localised to a single organ or tissue, or generalised (systemic), affecting many body organs and tissues.

Read more on ASCIA – Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy website

Neuromuscular disorders - Better Health Channel

The combination of the nervous system and muscles is known as the neuromuscular system.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Rare Cancers Australia - Directory - Thymoma and Thymic Carcinoma

Rare Cancers Australia is a charity whose purpose is to improve the lives and health outcomes of Australians living with a rare or less common cancer.

Read more on Rare Cancers Australia website

Lambert-Eaton myasthenic syndrome (LEMS) information | myVMC

Lambert-Eaton syndrome affects the muscles and autonomic nervous system. It is characterised by muscle weakness that improves with continued contraction.

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

Asasantin SR Sustained release capsules - myDr.com.au

Asasantin SR Sustained release capsules - Consumer Medicines Information leaflets of prescription and over-the-counter medicines

Read more on myDr – Consumer Medicine Information website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo