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Diagnosis, assessment, and management of myasthenia gravis and paramyasthenic syndromes 

Diagnosis, assessment, and management of myasthenia gravis and paramyasthenic syndromes
Diagnosis, assessment, and management of myasthenia gravis and paramyasthenic syndromes

Ugan Reddy

and Nicholas Hirsch

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date: 05 July 2022

Diseases that affect the neuromuscular junction (NMJ) interfere with normal nerve transmission and cause weakness of voluntary muscles. The two most commonly encountered are acquired myasthenia gravis (MG) and the Lambert–Eaton myasthenic syndrome (LEMS). Acquired MG is an autoimmune disease in which antibodies are directed towards receptors at the NMJ. In 85% of patients, IgG antibodies against the postsynaptic acetylcholine receptor (AChR) are found (seropositive MG). The thymus gland appears to be involved in the production of these which cause an increase rate of degradation of AChR resulting in a decreased receptor density resulting in a reduced postsynaptic end-plate potential following motor nerve stimulation and leading to muscle weakness. Although all voluntary muscles can be affected, ocular, bulbar, respiratory, and proximal limb weakness predominates. In the majority of seronegative patients, an antibody directed towards a NMJ protein called muscle specific tyrosine kinase (MUSK) is found. Anti-MUSK MG is characterized by severe bulbar and respiratory muscle weakness. Diagnosis of MG requires a high degree of clinical suspicion coupled with pharmacological and electrophysiological testing, and detection of the various causative antibodies. Treatment of MG involves enhancing neuromuscular transmission with long-acting anticholinesterase agents and immunosuppression. Acute exacerbations are treated with either plasma exchange or intravenous immunoglobulin. Myasthenic crisis is associated with severe muscle weakness that necessitates tracheal intubation and mechanical ventilation. LEMS is an autoimmune disease in which IgG antibodies are directed towards the pre-synaptic voltage-gated calcium channels at the NMJ. It is often associated with malignant disease (usually small cell carcinoma of the lung). Autonomic dysfunction is prominent and patients show abnormal responses to neuromuscular blocking drugs.

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