Huntington’s Disease

Huntington’s Disease (HD) is a genetic, hereditary disorder that causes cells in the brain to degenerate. Most cases of Huntington’s Disease are adult onset, first occurring between the ages of 30 and 40. In some cases, the onset may be earlier, with some children or young adults developing the disease. Huntington’s Disease is a progressive, untreatable and incurable disease, and is estimated to affect up to 30,000 Americans each year with many more at risk.

Causes of Huntington’s Disease

Huntington’s Disease is caused by a defective chromosome 4 which causes a section of DNA to be repeated far more than normal. Further, as the genetic abnormality is passed down through generations, the number of repeats increases. This means that subsequent generations are likely to acquire the disease at progressively earlier ages. A child has a 50% chance of inheriting HD if one of their parents has the genetic predisposition.

Symptoms of Huntington’s Disease

The symptoms of the disease are directly correlated to the number of repeated DNA sections. Therefore, fewer repeats generally means later onset, milder symptoms and slower progression of the disease. There are several symptoms that vary widely based on the individual and the number of repeated DNA sections. Some of the more common and specific symptoms include:

  • Behavioral problems including irritability, mood swings, even psychosis
  • Movement disorders including facial movements, sudden jerking or slow bodily movements and lack of coordination
  • Dementia

Other behavioral, emotional and physical changes may also occur with varying frequency.

Treatment for Huntington’s Disease

Even with our extensive understanding of the disease, its progression cannot be slowed or stopped. Patients will eventually need around-the-clock care or skilled nursing, and are expected to live between 15 and 20 years from the age of onset.

To alleviate some of the symptoms experienced by those with Huntington’s Disease, medications may be prescribed, including dopamine blockers to assist with behavioral problems and other drugs to alleviate some uncontrolled movements.

Support is a key part of the management of Huntington’s Disease. This is vitally important as personality changes, mood swings, anxiety and even depression are not only symptoms of the disease, but also consequences of living with a terminal condition. Thus, self-harm and suicide are common. Support for caregivers is also exceptionally important, as they are significantly affected, both emotionally and physically.

Huntington’s Disease Support Groups

We offer a Huntington’s Disease patients support groups are free to attend, but require a reservation. For more information visit our Support Groups Page.