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Myasthenia Gravis Myths and Misconceptions

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: May 2021

Myasthenia gravis (MG) is a chronic autoimmune disease that attacks voluntary muscles. Voluntary muscles are those that we can choose to control. This includes muscles that control the eyes, mouth, neck, arms, legs, and sometimes, breathing.

Because MG is rare and symptoms can be so different from person to person, it is often called a snowflake disease. The symptoms can be relatively mild in 1 person and quite severe in another. And, like other autoimmune conditions, there are many misunderstandings about people with myasthenia gravis.1-3

Myth #1: People with MG are just lazy

One of the strange things about myasthenia gravis is that the fatigue comes and goes without warning. Someone will seem fine and able to work normally in the morning and then run out of energy in the afternoon. Even the most common daily tasks like showering or cooking can be exhausting during an MG flare, but then the person will recover. The unpredictable nature of MG can be confusing to other people who may think the person with MG is lazy or uncooperative.2

Myth #2: More exercise would help

People who know nothing of myasthenia gravis often make the mistake of thinking someone with MG has weak muscles because they need to exercise more. However, people with MG feel weak because their nerves and muscles do not communicate correctly, not because of inactivity. While exercise is important to everyone’s health, people with MG must be careful to manage how much they try to do. Too much exercise or activity can make symptoms worse in a person with MG.1,2

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Myth #3: There is a pill for that, right?

Yes, there are several medicines that can treat the symptoms of myasthenia gravis. However, MG is not a one-size-fits-all kind of disease. It can be a real struggle to get a correct diagnosis. Then, the person must find the right combination of drugs, diet, and lifestyle changes that work for them. Sometimes, the many treatments that are available do not work or have unwanted side effects. And, while there are treatments that help manage symptoms or prevent flares, there is no cure.1,2

Myth #4: It is mind over matter

Myasthenia gravis can be an invisible disease. There may be no outward signs that a person’s signals between the nerves and muscles are misfiring. Other people may assume the fatigue and muscle weakness of MG is a matter of willpower. However, willpower will not improve the chemical reactions that muscles and nerves need to work properly.2

Myth #5: The condition is terminal

While MG can definitely kill a good time when the symptoms unexpectedly pop up, MG generally does not lead to an early death. The vast majority of people with MG live a typical lifespan. That said, some people with MG have serious, long-term health issues caused by muscle weakness. And a myasthenic crisis is a serious situation that can cause death if not treated.1

Myth #6: It leads to blindness

Many people with myasthenia gravis have double vision or droopy eyelids because their eye muscles get tired. However, resting the eye muscles and medicine can improve this symptom. MG does not cause blindness.

Myth #7: People with MG cannot work

Yes, some people with MG cannot work because their condition is severe. Others find medicines that help them lead their normal lives, though many adjustments may need to be made. Someone with MG may be able to work but need accommodations, part-time work, or a different job. This is especially true soon after diagnosis when the person has not yet found the combination of treatment and lifestyle changes that may reduce their symptoms.

Myth #8: It is an STD

Myasthenia gravis is often called MG for short. There is also a sexually transmitted disease, mycoplasma genitalium, that is called MG. The 2 diseases have nothing to do with one another. Myasthenia gravis is an autoimmune condition in which the body mistakenly attacks healthy tissue that makes the muscles work. Mycoplasma genitalium is caused by a bacteria..3