What is the drug treatment for Lambert-Eaton myasthenic syndrome (LEMS)?

Updated: May 23, 2019
  • Author: David E Stickler, MD; Chief Editor: Nicholas Lorenzo, MD, MHA, CPE  more...
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Answer

Medical therapy is tailored for each patient and might include various combinations of the drugs listed below. Therapy is best coordinated with the primary care physician and appropriate consultants.

The initial pharmacotherapy for Lambert-Eaton myasthenic syndrome (LEMS) is with agents that increase the transmission of acetylcholine (ACh) across the neuromuscular junction, either by increasing the release of ACh or by decreasing the action of acetylcholinesterase. Treatment of the associated cancer may also decrease the weakness and other symptoms.

If these treatments are not effective and the patient has relatively mild weakness, aggressive immunotherapy may be warranted. In such cases, plasma exchange (PEX) or high-dose intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIg) may be used initially to induce rapid, albeit transitory, improvement.

Immunosuppressants should be added for more sustained improvement. Prednisone and azathioprine, the most frequently used immunosuppressants, can be used alone or in combination. Cyclosporine may benefit patients with LEMS who are candidates for immunosuppression but cannot take or do not respond well to azathioprine.

IVIg, given in a course of 2 g/kg over 2-5 days, also induces clinically significant temporary improvement in many patients. The frequency of improvement in response to repeated courses of treatment has not been determined.


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