Myasthenia Gravis and Crisis: Evaluation and Management in the Emergency Department

Jamie Roper, M. Emily Fleming, Brit Long, Alex Koyfman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Background Myasthenia gravis (MG) is an uncommon autoimmune disorder affecting the neuromuscular junction and manifesting as muscle weakness. A multitude of stressors can exacerbate MG. When symptoms are exacerbated, muscle weakness can be severe enough to result in respiratory failure, a condition known as myasthenic crisis (MC). Objective This review discusses risk factors, diagnosis, management, and iatrogenic avoidance of MC. Discussion MC can affect any age, ethnicity, or sex and can be precipitated with any stressor, infection being the most common. MC is a clinical diagnosis defined by respiratory failure caused by exacerbation of MG. Muscle weakness can involve any voluntary muscle. MC can be differentiated from other neuromuscular junction diseases by the presence of normal reflexes, normal sensation, lack of autonomic symptoms, lack of fasciculations, and worsening weakness with repetitive motion. Treatment should target the inciting event and airway support. All acetylcholinesterase inhibitors should be avoided in crisis, including edrophonium testing and corticosteroids initially. Respiratory support can begin with noninvasive positive-pressure ventilation, as this has been successful even in patients with bulbar weakness. If intubation is necessary, consider avoiding paralytics or use a reduced dose of nondepolarizing agents. Conclusions MC should be in the differential of any patient with muscular weakness and respiratory compromise. Emergency department management of MC should focus on ruling out infection and respiratory support. Strong consideration should be given to beginning with noninvasive positive-pressure ventilation for ventilatory support. Corticosteroids, depolarizing paralytics, and acetylcholinesterase inhibitors should be avoided in patients with MC in the emergency department.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)843-853
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Emergency Medicine
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2017


  • myasthenia gravis
  • myasthenic crisis
  • neurology
  • neuromuscular
  • respiratory
  • weakness

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Emergency Medicine


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