Huntington's Disease overview
Huntington’s disease is an inherited disease that is characterized by the progressive breakdown of brain cells. This disorder has a wide range of effects that continually deteriorate a patient’s ability to move and process information until it becomes fatal in typically between 10 to 30 years.
The majority of people who develop Huntington’s begin to notice symptoms at some point in their 30s or 40s. That said, it’s possible to develop the condition earlier or later, which can result in a slightly different set of symptoms and rate of progression. Medications may help control the symptoms of Huntington’s, but sadly there is no known cure for this terminal illness
Huntington’s manifests in a wide variety of ways, resulting in many movement and cognitive/psychiatric disorders. Which symptoms appear first will vary from person to person. Likewise, some of the developed disorders will be dominant and have a larger impact on overall function than others.
The movement issues associated with Huntington’s tend to include things such as involuntary jerking movements, muscle rigidity, difficulty walking, or difficulty speaking. The cognitive problems, on the other hand, include difficulty focusing, difficulty adapting to change, loss of impulse control and self-awareness, as well as trouble learning new information.
The neurological impact of Huntington’s can also manifest in psychiatric disorders. The most common is depression, but researchers don’t believe this is purely a reaction to the diagnosis itself. Rather, depression for Huntington’s patients seems to be, in part, a result of specific brain injury and the resultant changes. Other psychiatric disorders that have been known to develop include OCD, Mania, as well as Bipolar Disorder.
Huntington’s is caused by an inherited defect in a single gene. Notably, as an autosomal dominant disorder, only one parent needs to pass it on for the child to be at risk, although the risk isn’t as high.
Preventing Huntington’s is something that is incredibly difficult, and only possible with a trusted doctor and careful planning. Potential parents with a family history of Huntington’s can consider getting tested for the gene. However, thanks to modern medicine, it is possible to utilize in vitro fertilization and a process known as preimplantation genetic diagnosis to prevent passing on the affected gene.
Huntington’s disease affects around 30,000 people across the United States at any given time. However, an additional 150,000 are living with the gene and are at risk of developing Huntington’s at some point.
Given that Huntington’s is a terminal condition, the main priority of most medications is limiting the impact of symptoms on quality of life. If you’re worried that you or a loved one may be developing Huntington’s, be sure to talk to your doctor as soon as possible. Only a trusted medical professional can diagnose the condition, as well as provide an adequate treatment plan.