Myasthenia Gravis: Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte says he’s suffering from autoimmune disease

Myasthenia Gravis
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has disclosed that he is suffering from a chronic autoimmune neuromuscular disease called Myasthenia Gravis.


Rodrigo Roa Duterte is the 16th president of the Philippines.

Born on March 28, 1945, Duterte is the oldest person to become Philippine President when he did so at the age of 71.

Duterte is a lawyer, graduating from San Beda College of Law in 1972.

He worked as a lawyer for Davao City before serving as Vice-Mayor and Mayor.

Duterte served as mayor for Davao City for more than 22 years.

Duterte has been a vocal supporter of extrajudicial killings of criminals, and has been the focus of human rights groups who have documented over 1,400 deaths attributed to vigilantes in Davao between 1998 to 2016.

An investigation by the Office of the Ombudsman was not able to verify the existence of the so-called Davao Death Squad, nor were they able to connect Duterte to any of the killings.

Duterte defeated Mar Roxas, Grace Poe, Jejomar Binay and Miriam Defensor-Santiago in the Presidential election in 2016.

His campaign platform was focused on eradicating crime in the Philippines, which saw over 7,000 dead by 2017.

International groups raised concerns about reports of extrajudicial killings, which Duterte had responded by threatening to withdraw the Philippines from the United Nations.

Since then, Duterte has pursued a different approach to traditional Philippine policy, and pivoting away from allies like the United States and fostering closer ties to China and Russia.


Myasthenia Gravis (which is derived from Latin and Greek for serious muscle weakness) is a a chronic autoimmune neuromuscular disease that results in the weakening of the skeletal muscles.

Weakening of the skeletal muscles would make breathing and moving extremities difficult.

Long periods of activity worsens the symptoms, although resting helps alleviate the pain.

Muscles affected by the disease include facial muscles including eyelids. Those diagnosed with the disease will also have difficulty eating and talking. Some suffer from difficulty of breathing as well as limited mobility with their arms and legs.

There is no known cure for Myasthenia Gravis.


Faulty transmission of nerve impulses to muscles causes Myasthenia Gravis.

For people with Myasthenia Gravis, antibodies affect the receptors for the neurotransmitter Acetylcholine, which bind the nerve ending to the receptor on the muscle, causing impairment at the neuromuscular junction.

Medical experts have identified the thymus gland as having a role in Myasthenia Gravis, but has not fully determined what this may be. Experts think that the thymus gland may be malfunctioning to cause the immune system to destroy its own cells, including the receptors for acetylcholine.


Most common symptoms for Myasthenia Gravis include droopy eyelid and facial muscle movement as well as difficulty swallowing.

Other symptoms include blurred vision, shortness of breath, impaired speech and weakness in the extremities.


To check if you have Myasthenia Gravis, doctors conduct a thorough physical and neurological exam.

Doctors also administer edrophonium chloride shots to relieve symptoms of Myasthenia Gravis. These shots increase acetylcholine levels at the muscle junctions.

Blood exams are also undertaken to check for antibodies (or the lack thereof).

Electrodiagnostics stimulate nerves with small, controlled pulses of electricity. Electromyography helps diagnose Myasthenia Gravis by detecting impaired nerve-to-muscle transmission.

CT scans and MRI also helps identify the presence of thymoma.

Doctors also tests pulmonary function, which measures breathing strength in patients suffering from Myasthenia Gravis.

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