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Table of Contents
Year : 2022  |  Volume : 27  |  Issue : 4  |  Page : 410-413

Surgical management prospects for myasthenia gravis in Nigeria: A preliminary report of Enugu experience

Department of Internal Medicine, University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital, Enugu, Nigeria

Date of Submission25-Feb-2022
Date of Decision14-Jun-2022
Date of Acceptance15-Jun-2022
Date of Web Publication22-Sep-2022

Correspondence Address:
Ijeoma B Ndionuka
Department of Internal Medicine, University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital, Enugu
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/ijmh.ijmh_39_22

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Background: Myasthenia gravis (MG) is an acquired autoimmune neuromuscular disease characterized by fatigable and variable weakness of skeletal muscles as a result of autoimmune attack on postsynaptic antigenic targets. There is paucity of data on the outcome of treatment options available in resource-poor settings. Objective: The aim of this study was to determine the treatment outcome of surgical thymectomy for MG with regard to the local experience in Enugu, southeast Nigeria. Materials and Methods: It was a preliminary report of patients with MG seen at the Neurology Clinic of the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital, Enugu, Nigeria, from February 2016 to October 2019. The treatment outcomes of the patients were analyzed following thymectomy to determine the effectiveness of the surgical management. Data obtained included patients’ age, response to treatment, intensive care unit (ICU) stay, and total hospital stay. Results: The mean age of the patients was 35.7 ± 15.1. The mean duration of stay at the ICU was 3.9 ± 4.6 days, while the mean total hospital stay was 12 ± 9.70 days. All the patients (100%) had symptomatic improvement following thymectomy and 40% had remission. Conclusion: The general outcome of MG patients following thymectomy was favorable. Thymectomy appears to improve the prognosis of MG in the local setting of Enugu, Nigeria.

Keywords: Enugu, myasthenia gravis, thymectomy

How to cite this article:
Ndionuka IB, Onwuekwe IO, Ekenze SO, Ezeala-Adikaibe B. Surgical management prospects for myasthenia gravis in Nigeria: A preliminary report of Enugu experience. Int J Med Health Dev 2022;27:410-3

How to cite this URL:
Ndionuka IB, Onwuekwe IO, Ekenze SO, Ezeala-Adikaibe B. Surgical management prospects for myasthenia gravis in Nigeria: A preliminary report of Enugu experience. Int J Med Health Dev [serial online] 2022 [cited 2023 Jun 5];27:410-3. Available from: https://www.ijmhdev.com/text.asp?2022/27/4/410/356631

  Introduction Top

Myasthenia gravis (MG) is a relatively rare, acquired, autoimmune disorder caused by an antibody-mediated blockade of neuromuscular transmission resulting in skeletal muscle weakness with variable presentation, e.g., limb weakness, ocular weakness, bulbar weakness. The autoimmune attack occurs when autoantibodies form against the nicotinic acetylcholine postsynaptic receptors at the neuromuscular junction (NMJ) of skeletal muscles.[1],[2] Although the chief target of the autoimmune attack in most cases is the skeletal muscle nicotinic acetylcholine receptor, other antigenic targets that are components of the NMJ have also been implicated and include the muscle-specific tyrosine kinase (MUSK), low-density lipoprotein receptor-related protein (LRP4), and Agrin. These maintain the structure of the NMJ.

The four basic therapies for MG include symptomatic therapy with an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor (pyridostigmine), chronic immunosuppressive therapies, rapid but transient immunomodulatory therapies (plasma exchange and intravenous immune globulin), and thymectomy. Thymectomy is performed to potentially avoid chronic immunosuppressive therapy, or if immunotherapy has failed or patients have had intolerable side effects from immunotherapy. The major treatment options in resource-poor settings are thymectomy and pharmacotherapy. In non-thymomatous generalized MG, thymectomy has become the standard, despite a lack of evidence from a good prospective clinical trial. Two systematic reviews of the existing thymectomy literature emphasized this knowledge gap and recommended the MG field perform a randomized, controlled trial.[3],[4],[5] However, owing to the difficulty of performing controlled trials involving thoracic surgery in a rare disease, high-quality evidence about thymectomy had been lacking. A recently completed landmark international, randomized, rater-blinded clinical trial controlling for medical treatment was designed to address this uncertainty.[6]

One hundred twenty-six recently diagnosed patients, ages 18 through 65 with AChR antibody-positive generalized MG, were randomized to receive either extended transsternal thymectomy plus prednisone or medical management with prednisone. Over a 3-year follow-up period, the time-weighted average Quantitative Myasthenia Gravis score was lower in the patients who underwent thymectomy (6.15 vs. 8.99). Similarly, the thymectomy group had a lower time-weighted alternate-day prednisone dose requirement (initially reported at 44 vs. 60 mg), which was later corrected to 32 vs. 54 mg (95% confidence interval, 12–32 mg). Also, in the thymectomy group, there were fewer patients requiring additional immunosuppression, fewer adverse events, and fewer admissions for myasthenic crises. These data provide support for thymectomy as a first-line treatment modality that can improve MG status and decrease the required dose and duration of immunotherapy in generalized MG. The operation should be scheduled when the patient is neurologically optimized, because perioperative events can exacerbate myasthenic weakness. Patients with persistent bulbar, respiratory, or limb weakness should be treated with plasma exchange (PLEX) before surgery. Surprisingly, the effects of the thymectomy could be observed as early as 3–4 months and were maintained for the entire 3-year study.[6]

There are no available data found on the incidence rate (IR) of MG in Nigeria, but Cape Town recorded an annual IR of 12.6 per million.[7] It is estimated that MG affects more than 700,000 people worldwide and approximately 36,000–60,000 patients in the USA.

The IR of MG varies with age, gender, and ethnic groups.[8] Estimates of incidence range from 0.3 to 2.8 per 100,000 worldwide, and the median global estimated prevalence is 10 per 100,000.[9]

There is paucity of data on the outcome of treatment options available in resource-poor settings. This study aims to determine the treatment outcome of surgical thymectomy for MG in Enugu, southeast Nigeria.

  Materials and Methods Top

This is a preliminary report of 10 patients of MG seen at the Neurology Clinic of the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital (UNTH) from February 2016 to February 2019. They were five males and five females, at different ages, varying durations of symptoms, different stages of MG, varying antibody titer, and ultimately one of two outcomes following thymectomy. The patients were counseled on the use of thymectomy as a treatment option to improve management outcome. Thymectomy was done by the general surgeons of the hospital using a trans-sternal approach. Patients were monitored in the intensive care unit (ICU) for a few days on low-dose Pyridostigmine 30 mg 8 hourly before discharge to the general ward. The patients were subsequently discharged home after remarkable recovery with partial and for some complete weaning off from medications.

  Results Top

The mean age of the patients was 35.7 ± 15.13. Males and females were of equal number. The median duration of stay at the ICU was 2 days, interquartile range 6. The mean total hospital stay was 12 ± 9.70 days. All the patients (10/10, 100%) had symptomatic improvement following thymectomy. 40% (n = 4) achieved medication-free remission status (WD); 60% were on low doses of Pyridostigmine medication (LD). Medication-free remission status was seen with lower mean age of 29 years [Figure 1], male sex (three out of five males), lower mean duration of symptoms 56 months [Table 1], Osserman stage 2A [Table 2], and higher acetylcholine receptor antibody titer. Six (60%) of the patients had non-thymomatous MG, one (10%) was thymomatous, and three were unknown because of the missing histopathology result.
Figure 1: Treatment outcome following thymectomy and mean age

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Table 1: The outcome following thymectomy and duration of symptoms of MG

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Table 2: Osserman staging of MG and treatment outcome following thymectomy

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  Discussion Top

This was a preliminary descriptive report of 10 patients with MG seen at the Neurology Clinic of the UNTH from February 2016 to February 2019. Males and females were of equal number, with age range 18–72 and a mean age of 35.70 years. A lower mean age of 29 years was noted in the patients with remission or minimal manifestation. However, studies have observed that patients were more likely to go into remission when the diagnosis was made in the first year of the disease and if symptoms started before the age of 40.[10] The study observed that patients with mild disease (Osserman stage IIA) were more likely to do better following thymectomy. Similar findings were reported by Aydin et al.,[11] but however differed from findings by Diaz et al.,[12] who observed that patients with severe disease were more likely to achieve remission following thymectomy. Tansel et al.[13] found early and late postoperative remission rates (RRs) of 44.6% and 73%, respectively. They found no correlation among sex, age, duration of symptoms, and preoperative classification. However, symptomatic improvement increased in late follow-up.

RRs specifically for non-thymomatous MG (no tumor in the thymus gland) ranged from 38% to 72% with up to 10 years of follow-up.[11] Higher mean antibody titer was associated with remission in 4 patients out of 10, as observed in this study. Lower mean duration of symptoms was also noted to be associated with remission. In a similar study, 15 patients undergoing thoracoscopic thymectomy were identified with a mean age of 11.3 years at the time of diagnosis and average treatment duration of 12.5 months prior to operative intervention. Of these patients, most presented with Osserman stage IIB (8) or stage III (5) disease and two patients with Osserman stage IIA disease. Results of thoracoscopic thymectomy were not considered curative, rather appeared to make generalized juvenile MG more amenable to long-term medical management.[14] Thymectomy in MUSK, LRP4, and Agrin antibody-positive patients is not supported by current evidence.[15] MUSK antibody was not routinely done by the patients in this study due to financial constraints. The major limitation of this study is the small sample size making inferential statistics difficult, and thus the conclusion is to be interpreted with caution. A future study with larger sample size and inferential statistics is expected as fresh recruitments and follow ups are being continued.

  Conclusion Top

Thymectomy improves the likelihood of remission in patients with MG, particularly those with mild disease. There may be need to improve the availability of thymectomy services for patients with MG and also to consider this treatment option as first line to reduce the burden and cost of management of MG, especially in resource-poor settings.

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Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

  References Top

Strauss AJL, Seigal BC, Hsu KC Immunofluorescence demonstration of a muscle binding complement fixing serum globulin fraction in myasthenia gravis. Proc Soc Exp Biol 1960;105:184.  Back to cited text no. 1
Patrick J, Lindstrom J Autoimmune response to acetylcholine receptor. Science 1973;180:871-2.  Back to cited text no. 2
Gronseth GS, Barohn RJ Practice parameter: Thymectomy for autoimmune myasthenia gravis (an evidence-based review): Report of the Quality Standards Subcommittee of the American Academy of Neurology. Neurology 2000;55: 7-15.  Back to cited text no. 3
Cea G, Benatar M, Verdugo RJ, Salinas RA Thymectomy for non-thymomatous myasthenia gravis. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2013(10):CD008111.  Back to cited text no. 4
Kissel JT, Franklin GM Treatment of myasthenia gravis: A call to arms. Neurology 2000;55:3-4.  Back to cited text no. 5
Wolfe GI, Kaminski HJ, Aban IB, Minisman G, Kuo HC, Marx A, et al; MGTX Study Group. Randomized trial of thymectomy in myasthenia gravis. N Engl J Med 2016;375:511-22.  Back to cited text no. 6
Bateman KJ, Schinkel M, Little F, Liebenberg L, Vincent A, Heckmann JM Incidence of seropositive myasthenia gravis in Cape Town and South Africa. South Afr Med J 2007;97:959-62.  Back to cited text no. 7
Meriggioli MN, Sanders DB Autoimmune myasthenia gravis: Emerging clinical and biological heterogeneity. Lancet Neurol 2009;8:475-90.  Back to cited text no. 8
Deenen JC, Horlings CG, Verschuuren JJ, Verbeek AL, van Engelen BG The epidemiology of neuromuscular disorders: A comprehensive overview of the literature. J Neuromuscul Dis 2015;2:73-85.  Back to cited text no. 9
Mao ZF, Mo XA, Qin C, Lai YR, Olde Hartman TC Course and prognosis of myasthenia gravis: A systematic review. Eur J Neurol 2010;17:913-21.  Back to cited text no. 10
Aydin Y, Ulas AB, Mutlu V, Colak A, Eroglu A Management of myasthenia gravis. Eurasian J Med 2017;49: 48-52.  Back to cited text no. 11
Diaz A, Black E, Dunning J Is thymectomy in non-thymomatous myasthenia gravis of any benefit? Interact Cardiovasc Thorac Surg 2013;18:381-9.  Back to cited text no. 12
Tansel T, Onursal E, Barlas S, Tireli E, Alpagut U Results of surgical treatment for nonthymomatous myasthenia gravis. Surg Today 2003;33:666-70.  Back to cited text no. 13
Christison-Lagay E, Dharia B, Vajsar J, Kim PC Efficacy and safety of thoracoscopic thymectomy in the treatment of juvenile myasthenia gravis. Pediatr Surg Int 2013;29:583-6.  Back to cited text no. 14
Sanders DB, Wolfe GI, Benatar M, Evoli A, Gilhus NE, Illa I, et al. International Consensus Guidance for Management of Myasthenia Gravis: Executive summary. Neurology 2016;87:419-25.  Back to cited text no. 15


  [Figure 1]

  [Table 1], [Table 2]


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