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.

beginning of content

Myasthenia gravis

5-minute read

If you or someone else is having trouble breathing, call triple-zero (000) and ask for an ambulance.

Key facts

  • Myasthenia gravis is an autoimmune disease, caused by a breakdown in communication between your nerves and muscles.
  • The condition often begins in your eye muscles or face. It can be hard to control your eye and eyelid movements, or to talk, chew o swallow.
  • It can't be cured, but your symptoms can be managed.
  • Myasthenia gravis can be diagnosed by blood tests, electromyography and imaging scans such as CT and MRI.

What is myasthenia gravis?

Myasthenia gravis is a rare disease of the neuromuscular system, caused by a breakdown in communication between the nerves and muscles. This leads to muscle weakness during activity, which can improve after a period of rest.

Myasthenia gravis can’t be cured, but treatments are available to help manage your symptoms.

What are the symptoms of myasthenia gravis?

The symptoms of myasthenia gravis often begin in your eye muscles or elsewhere on your face. It can become hard to control your eye and eyelid movements, and to talk, chew and swallow.

Your symptoms can appear suddenly or take weeks to develop. They might also come and go. They may include:

  • drooping of one or both eyelids
  • blurred or double vision
  • unsteady walking
  • weak arms, hands, fingers, legs, and neck
  • a change in facial expression
  • shortness of breath
  • trouble swallowing and/or impaired speech

The muscle weakness is usually worse when you’re active and improves after you rest.

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

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the Symptom Checker and find out if you need to seek medical help.

What causes myasthenia gravis?

Myasthenia gravis is an autoimmune disease. This means it is caused by your body’s immune system mistakenly attacking healthy tissue at the junction (meeting) between nerves and muscles. This causes problems in the signals that your nerves send to your muscles.

Males and females from all ethnic groups can get myasthenia gravis, but it is most common in females under age 40 and males over age 60. If you have myasthenia gravis, you and your family are more likely to develop other autoimmune diseases, such as Graves' disease, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.

Babies can get a form of myasthenia gravis from their mothers, but this is usually temporary.

It is not understood why some people get autoimmune diseases while others do not.

How will I be diagnosed with myasthenia gravis?

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

  • a blood test for the antibodies that are typically seen in myasthenia gravis (AChR antibodies)
  • ice test — the doctor examines you for improved eyelid droop after covering the eye for a minute or two with a cold pack
  • nerve conduction tests and electromyography (a test that measures muscle function)
  • injection of the drug edrophonium 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 the upper chest)

FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.

What treatment will I need for myasthenia gravis?

Myasthenia gravis is one of the most treatable neuromuscular disorders.

Common treatments include:

  • medicines to improve muscle strength or help balance your immune system
  • treatment filter your blood through a machine which removes the antibodies that cause myasthenia gravis
  • surgery to remove your thymus gland, where your body produces the antibodies that attack your muscles

Often, a combination of treatments is used.

What is a myasthenic crisis?

Myasthenic crisis is a medical emergency that develops when the muscles that control your breathing are severely weakened. A crisis is usually triggered by an infection, emotional stress, or a bad reaction to medicine. You may need treatment with a ventilator in hospital.

If you or someone else is having trouble breathing, call triple-zero (000) and ask for an ambulance.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: July 2022

Back To Top

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Myasthenia gravis -

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 - Brain Foundation

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

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

Autoimmune diseases are a broad range of related diseases in which a person’s 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

Acetylcholine receptor antibody | Pathology Tests Explained

Acetylcholine receptor (ACHR) antibodies are autoantibodies produced by the immune system that mistakenly target proteins called acetylcholine receptors that

Read more on Pathology Tests Explained 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 Queensland Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Victorian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo

Healthdirect Australia acknowledges the Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and their continuing connection to land, sea and community. We pay our respects to the Traditional Owners and to Elders both past and present.