Symptoms of Huntington's disease often first appear when people are in their 30s or 40s. Initial signs may include clumsiness, stumbling, or difficulty focusing. Over 10-25 years, the disease gradually kills nerve cells in the brain.
Early stage symptoms
- Difficulty learning new skills or things
- Mood swings
- Slow or abnormal eye movements
- Muscle problems such as dystonia
- Difficulty sleeping
- Fatigue and tiredness
- Memory lapses
- Difficulty making decisions
Middle stage symptoms
- Difficulty swallowing
- Difficulty speaking
- Difficulty walking
- Chorea (uncontrolled twitching movements)
- Memory loss
- Breathing problems
- Suicidal thoughts
- Weight loss
- Development of psychiatric disorders such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder, or mania
- Disorientation and confusion
Late stage symptoms
- Dependency on others for self-care
- Fidgety movements that have become severe or receding
What are symptoms of juvenile Huntington's disease?
If symptoms begin before age 20, it is known as juvenile Huntington's disease. Signs and symptoms of juvenile Huntington's disease include:
What causes Huntington's disease?
Huntington's disease is a rare, hereditary disease that causes progressive degeneration of nerve cells of the brain, which can lead to emotional disturbances, memory problems, and uncontrolled movements.
If either of your parents have the disease, there is a 50% chance that you may develop it. This disease does not skip a generation, meaning that if you do not develop symptoms of Huntington's disease, you will not pass it to your children.
About 1%-3%of cases so far are found without a significant family history.
How is Huntington's disease diagnosed?
Family history is a major clue for diagnosis. Your doctor may recommend genetic testing to find a defective gene. They may perform detailed physical and neurological examinations that include checking the following:
- Muscle strength
- Sense of touch, vision, and hearing
- Mood and mental state
- Memory and reasoning
- Behavioral patterns
- Coping skills
- Thinking skills
How is Huntington's disease treated?
There is no permanent cure for Huntington's disease. However, medications can help control symptoms of movements and psychiatric disorders.
- Medications for uncontrolled movement: Drugs such as tetrabenazine and deutetrabenazine help control involuntary jerking movements that occur with Huntington's disease.
- Medications for movement suppression: Examples include haloperidol and fluphenazine.
- Antidepressants: Drugs such as citalopram, fluoxetine, and sertraline may be used to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder in Huntington’s disease.
Therapies directed at problematic areas include:
- Speech therapy
- Physical therapy
- Occupational therapy
- Psychiatric therapy
Lifestyle changes can help, including:
- Exercising regularly
- Eating healthy
- Drinking plenty of water
- Being socially active
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