Huntington’s disease (HD) is a rare, inherited disease that causes the progressive breakdown (degeneration) of nerve cells in the brain. Huntington’s disease has a wide impact on a person’s functional abilities and usually results in movement, thinking (cognitive) and psychiatric disorders.
People with Huntington’s disease can experience symptoms as young as their 30s or 40s. They may experience a range of the following symptoms:
- Involuntary jerking or writhing movements (chorea)
- Muscle problems, such as rigidity or muscle contracture (dystonia)
- Slow or unusual eye movements
- Impaired gait, posture, and balance
- Difficulty with speech or swallowing
- Difficulty organizing, prioritizing, or focusing on tasks
- Lack of flexibility or the tendency to get stuck on a thought, behavior, or action (perseveration)
- Lack of impulse control that can result in outbursts, acting without thinking and sexual promiscuity
- Lack of awareness of one’s own behaviors and abilities
- Slowness in processing thoughts or ”finding” words
- Difficulty in learning new information
- Feelings of irritability, sadness, or apathy
- Social withdrawal
- Fatigue and loss of energy
- Frequent thoughts of death, dying or suicide
Huntington’s disease is caused by an inherited difference in a single gene. Huntington’s disease is an autosomal dominant disorder, which means that a person needs only one copy of the nontypical gene to develop the disorder.
With the exception of genes on the sex chromosomes, a person inherits two copies of every gene — one copy from each parent. A parent with a nontypical gene could pass along the nontypical copy of the gene or the healthy copy. Each child in the family, therefore, has a 50% chance of inheriting the gene that causes the genetic disorder.
Huntington’s disease affects both sexes and all ethnic groups around the world. The age of onset of Huntington’s disease varies greatly from person to person, but most people develop it in their 30s or 40s. After Huntington’s disease onset, a person’s functional abilities can gradually worsen over time. The rate of disease progression varies for each person.
Huntington’s disease can be diagnosed through a variety of tests:
- Genetic testing. The definitive test for HD is a genetic test that examines your DNA for the presence of the gene. This can be done through a blood sample.
- Neurological exams. HD can also be diagnosed through neurological examinations, psychological examinations, CT scans, and genetic tests. These tests can help observe reflexes, coordination, mental agility, vision, and sense of touch.
How is Huntington’s disease treated?
There is currently no cure for Huntington’s disease. However, some symptoms caused by HD can be treated to help maintain quality of life. Doctors at Northeast Georgia Medical Center can help you the managing symptoms so you can function as well as possible while navigating everyday life with this disease. This may include and isn’t limited to:
- Medications that help reduce symptoms and manage depression, mood disorders, and involuntary movements.
- Physical and occupational therapy to help treat mobility and movement.
- Lifestyle changes such as proper exercise and nutrition that can help alleviate HD-related symptoms.
Why Choose NGPG
NGPG Neuroscience employs a team of board-certified neurologists, neurosurgeons, neuro-interventional surgeons, neuropsychiatrists, and other specialists who provide high-quality care and up-to-date treatments through our two outpatient Neurology office locations. For imaging and surgical care, we partner with the Northeast Georgia Medical Center, ensuring patients have access to all the services of a leading hospital alongside our excellent outpatient care.
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