Surgical Myasthenia Gravis Treatments

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Myasthenia gravis may be associated with various abnormalities of the thymus gland.

The thymus gland lies behind the breastbone and is an important part of the immune system in infancy and early childhood.

The relationship between the thymus gland and myasthenia gravis has led to the medical recommendation that the gland be removed (thymectomy). About 10 percent of myasthenia gravis patients have a tumor of the gland (thymoma) and are treated with surgical removal, or thymectomy, as well.

Since the 1940's, myasthenia gravis has been treated by thymectomy with most patients showing some improvement after 6 months to 1 year following surgery.

The degree of improvement after surgery is not predictable, but can be significant. Myasthenia gravis patients who experience more than minimal symptoms should consider thymectomy for treatment. University of Maryland thoracic surgeons offer four different surgical approaches for thymectomy, including some which are minimally invasive, to best meet our patients' needs.

Click on any of the links below to learn more about these surgical approaches, what to expect after surgery and more.

The history of thymectomy dates back to 1901 when a thymoma in a patient with myasthenia gravis was described and the association between the thymus gland and myasthenia gravis was first suggested. In 1913, Schumaker and Roth described the fist thymectomy performed 2 years earlier, in 1911, by Sauerbruch.

The exact mechanism by which thymectomy improves the symptoms of myasthenia gravis is not completely understood. Nevertheless, myasthenia gravis patients who undergo thymectomy do experience fewer exacerbations ("flare-ups"), have milder symptoms, require lower medication doses and have a higher chance of complete remission.

Various types of thymectomy procedures are performed at the University of Maryland Medical Center. The Medical Center has recently installed state-of-the-art operating rooms outfitted with the newest videoscopic equipment, earning the title: "OR of the Future."

Our surgeons are experienced in all of the surgical approaches to thymectomy and have performed thymectomy on hundreds of patients safely and successfully.

Thymectomy can be performed using several surgical approaches. Your surgeon will determine the optimal surgical procedure for you, based upon your general health status, physical build and the absence of a thymoma.