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Lambert-Eaton Myasthenic Syndrome

What is Lambert-Eaton Myasthenic Syndrome?

Lambert-Eaton myasthenic syndrome (LEMS) is a disorder of the neuromuscular junction-the site where nerve cells meet muscle cells and help activate the muscles.

Lambert-Eaton myasthenic syndrome is caused by a disruption of electrical impulses between these nerve and muscle cells. Lambert-Eaton myasthenic syndrome is an autoimmune condition; in such disorders the immune system, which normally protects the body from foreign organisms, mistakenly attacks the body's own tissues. The disruption of electrical impulses is associated with antibodies produced as a consequence of this autoimmunity.

Lambert-Eaton Myasthenic Syndrome and Cancer

Lambert-Eaton myasthenic syndrome is closely associated with cancer, in particular small cell lung cancer. More than half the individuals diagnosed with Lambert-Eaton myasthenic syndrome also develop small cell lung cancer. Lambert-Eaton myasthenic syndrome may appear up to 3 years before cancer is diagnosed.

Symptoms of Lambert-Eaton Myasthenic Syndrome

Symptoms of Lambert-Eaton myasthenic syndrome develop slowly. The most common symptoms of Lambert-Eaton myasthenic syndrome are:

  • Weakness of the upper legs and upper arms that gets worse over time
  • Muscle weakness
  • Tingling sensation in the affected areas
  • Fatigue
  • Dry mouth, eyes, or skin
  • Eyelid drooping or double vision

Treatments for Lambert-Eaton Myasthenic Syndrome

There is no cure for Lambert-Eaton myasthenic syndrome. Treatment is directed at decreasing the autoimmune response (through the use of steroids, plasmapheresis, or high-dose intravenous immunoglobulin) or improving the transmission of the disrupted electrical impulses by giving drugs such as di-amino pyridine or pyridostigmine bromide (Mestinon).

For patients with small cell lung cancer, treatment of the cancer is the first priority.

Prognosis for Lambert-Eaton Myasthenic Syndrome

The prognosis for individuals with Lambert-Eaton myasthenic syndrome varies. Those with Lambert-Eaton myasthenic syndrome not associated with malignancy have a benign overall prognosis. Generally the presence of cancer determines the prognosis.

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