Background: Thymectomy has continued to gain acceptance as definitive treatment for myasthenia gravis. Because of the nature of thymic embryology with scattered rests throughout the anterior mediastinum, we advocate a transsternal thymectomy with extended anterior mediastinal dissection.
Methods: A series of 48 patients with myasthenia gravis treated by thymectomy between 1979 and 1991 were reviewed.
Results: The mean length of duration of disease from onset to operation was 48.7 +/- 11.3 months, and the mean length of follow-up was 51.6 +/- 6.5 months. The operation was associated with a 21% morbidity rate (4% major morbidity) with no deaths. Forty-five patients (94%) have improved, requiring decreased medication. The overall drug-free remission rate was 42%. Of the 20 patients in remission, three had thymomas and four had hyperplastic glands. All of the patients who achieved drug-free remission were classified as Osserman's I or II.
Conclusions: An aggressive surgical approach to myasthenia gravis can result in a high percentage of overall improvements and drug-free remissions. The best results are achieved in patients with lower-stage disease. Therefore transsternal extended thymectomy for myasthenia gravis appears to be the procedure of choice and should be advocated as soon as the diagnosis is made and the patient stabilized.