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Myasthenia Gravis: What It Is & How Acupuncture Can Help
By: Vanessa Vogel Batt, L.Ac., MSTOM

Myasthenia gravis is a neuromuscular disorder causing muscles under voluntary control to tire and become easily fatigued. This happens when the muscles and the nerves that enervate them miscommunicate. More than half of those diagnosed with myasthenia gravis present with eye problems as their first symptoms. This primarily includes droopy eyelids (ptosis) and double-vision (diplopia). However, roughly 15 percent of sufferers reported their first symptoms started in the face or throat muscles. These symptoms included difficulty talking, chewing, swallowing and breathing.

Someone who has difficulties with the face or throat muscles as a result of having myasthenia gravis, may experience:

  • Speech may alter and the voice can sound low, soft or nasally
  • Facial expressions may be limited, including the loss of the ability to smile
  • Difficulty in swallowing could cause drooling
  • Chewing may become an exhausting activity, limiting what one may eat

The most severe symptom is what is called a 'myasthenia crisis,' in which the muscles used for breathing no longer function. This is a life-threatening condition when and emergency medical help is needed immediately.

As myasthenia gravis may affect any muscle under voluntary control, weakness could occur in other areas besides the face and throat. The arms generally are more affected than the legs, and symptoms may present in the hands and feet, although this is not as common.

The exact cause of this condition is unknown, but researchers have learned that the disease prompts the immune system to block signals from the nerve to the muscles. There is also evidence that a protein helping the muscles to receive messages is prevented from doing so. It is also believed genetics may play a role.

Acupuncture and Oriental medicine is an excellent choice if you are seeking treatment for myasthenia gravis and can be used to support the treatment you may already be receiving from your primary care provider. As this disease is complex, your acupuncture and Oriental medicine practitioner will need to know all the things that bother you, not just the signs and symptoms specifically related to myasthenia gravis. This may include questions about your quality of sleep, digestive functions and emotional state.

Let's say, for example, that a patient first notices fatigue in the legs becoming a problem and then over the next few months adds poor appetite and frequent diarrhea as the latest symptoms. An acupuncture and Oriental medicine practitioner may decide to diagnose this patient as being Qi deficient in the stomach and spleen. Qi is the most fundamental, indispensable energy needed for life to exist.

According to the philosophy of acupuncture and Oriental medicine, the stomach begins the 'fermentation' of food, which gets it ready to be processed by the spleen. The spleen then extracts nutrients for further processing in the digestive tract, starts the manufacturing of blood and nourishes the muscles of the arms and legs.

With this diagnosis, your acupuncturist can design an acupuncture treatment that will strengthen the Qi in the stomach and spleen. This may help the body to produce a high-quality, healthy supply of blood to aid weakened leg muscles. An improved stomach and spleen can bring back the appetite and help stop diarrhea. It can also help make extracting nutrients from food more efficient which, in turn, supports the immune and nervous systems. However, it is important to maintain realistic expectations as treatment is used to manage only the symptoms of myasthenia gravis.

Find an Acupuncturist near you to learn how acupuncture and Oriental medicine can help manage your symptoms!

About the Author:   Vanessa Vogel Batt, L.Ac., MSTOM, studied at the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine, and practiced acupuncture and Oriental medicine in New York for several years. Vanessa enjoys traveling the world, and has published articles on acupuncture and Oriental medicine and related health topics for websites and publications in both the U.S. and abroad.