Thymectomy in the treatment of ocular myasthenia gravis

J Thorac Cardiovasc Surg. 2001 Sep;122(3):562-8. doi: 10.1067/mtc.2001.116191.


Background: Thymectomy is an effective and accepted treatment for myasthenia gravis, but thymectomy for ocular myasthenia gravis (Osserman stage I) is controversial.

Objective: To assess the efficacy and propriety of thymectomy for the treatment of ocular myasthenia gravis.

Methods: We conducted a review and follow-up of all patients who had thymectomy for the treatment of ocular myasthenia gravis between 1970 and 1998 at the University of California, Davis, Medical Center, and the University of Rome, "La Sapienza," Rome, Italy. Patient response to thymectomy was categorized as follows: cured, patients who became symptom-free and required no further medication; improved, patients who required less medication and whose symptoms were less severe; unchanged, patients whose symptoms and medications were the same; worse, patients who had more severe symptoms, needed more medication, or died.

Results: Sixty-one patients (mean age 37 years; range 14-73 years) were followed up for a mean duration of 9 years (range 0.5-29 years). Ocular myasthenia gravis with mixed and cortical thymomas, stages I to IV, occurred in 12 patients, and ocular myasthenia without thymomas occurred in 49 patients. Transsternal thymectomy (n = 55) and transcervical thymectomy (n = 6) resulted in cure in 31 (51%) patients, improvement in 12 (20%) patients, no change in 16 (26%) patients, and worsening of symptoms (including 1 postoperative death) in 2 patients. Patient outcomes were statistically independent of the duration of preoperative symptoms (mean 9.5 months), patient age, or the presence or absence of thymoma. In patients with ocular myasthenia, 70% were cured or improved after thymectomy; in the subgroup of patients with ocular myasthenia and thymoma, 67% were cured or improved.

Conclusion: Thymectomy is an effective and safe treatment for patients with ocular myasthenia gravis.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Distribution
  • Aged
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Myasthenia Gravis / classification
  • Myasthenia Gravis / diagnosis
  • Myasthenia Gravis / drug therapy
  • Myasthenia Gravis / surgery*
  • Patient Selection
  • Recurrence
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Sex Distribution
  • Thymectomy* / adverse effects
  • Thymectomy* / methods
  • Thymectomy* / mortality
  • Treatment Outcome