Eighteen patients with exclusively ocular symptoms of myasthenia were thymectomised. Suspected thymoma, resistance to pyridostigmine therapy or relapse following immunosuppressive therapy were taken as indications for surgery. The mean preoperative observation period before operation was 40 months, and after operation was 26 months. There was no operative or postoperative morbidity or mortality. Histological thymic abnormalities were found in all patients (in one case, thymoma; in four, persistent thymus; in 13, thymic hyperplasia). The histological abnormalities were identical to those found in generalised myasthenia. This included the distribution of T-cell subtypes as identified by use of monoclonal antibodies. The severity of ocular symptoms was rated using a score developed for this purpose. The score progressively declined after surgery to an average of 70% of its initial amount in 80% of patients. Full remission occurred in three cases. No patient developed generalized myasthenia. Antibody titres against acetylcholine receptors if elevated preoperatively also dropped following surgery, with one exception. Clear criteria for the expected therapeutic success of thymectomy could not be identified. Based on our results, and on the assumed significance of the thymus gland for pathogenesis, thymectomy should be considered in patients with pure ocular symptoms.
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