Huntingtons Disease

Huntington’s disease is a rare medical condition that causes the gradual degradation of the nerve cells in the brain and over time will break down. Currently, there is no cure for this medical condition. Patients diagnosed with Huntington’s disease may experience changes in their thinking abilities or experience psychiatric disorders as well as changes to their movement abilities. While most patients develop signs of Huntington’s disease in their 30’s or 40’s, others may develop early symptoms in their 20’s. Therefore, it is important to have regular checkups with your physician.

Huntington’s Disease Drugs

Huntington’s Disease Symptoms

While symptoms of Huntington’s Disease varies along the areas of movement, cognitive and psychiatric symptoms, there are some common signs shared by patients diagnosed with Huntington’s Disease:

  • Uncontrolled movement of arms, legs, head, face and upper body
  • Ability to plan and organize is decreased
  • Feelings of depression and anxiety, anger and irritability
  • Obsessive-compulsive behavior (repeating the same question or activity over and over again)
  • Feeling disoriented or confused
  • Speech changes
  • Personality changes
  • Loss of memory or slowness in processing thoughts
  • Difficulty learning new information
  • Difficulty focusing on tasks, organizing or prioritizing tasks
  • Insomnia
  • Social withdrawal
  • Mania, bipolar disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Walking with a stiff gait or displaying slowness when walking

Huntington’s Disease Causes

Huntington’s Disease is attributed to an inherited defective single gene in the brain. This disease is caused by a mutation on chromosome 4. The proteins of the brain cells in a patient diagnosed with Huntington’s Disease are clumped together resulting in cell death, instead of normal coding in this region. A person only needs one copy of the defective gene to develop this condition. A parent with this condition may pass off their genes to their offspring resulting in a 50/50 chance that the child will get a faulty gene and develop Huntington’s disease or to their future offspring.

Huntington’s Disease Diagnosis

To determine if a patient has Huntington’s Disease, a neurologist may want to review the patient’s family history (pedigree or genealogy) as this disease is usually inherited from one’s parents and to ensure that the symptoms displayed are not caused by underlying medical issues. Secondly, the neurologist will run some tests on the patient by testing their strength, coordination, balance and mental status. Some patients with Huntington’s Disease are unable to control their eye movements and, therefore, the tests should provide a conclusive result. Finally, the physician may determine if a patient has Huntington’s Disease by having the patient undergo a CT and MRI scan which will provide an in-depth picture of the brain’s health. If a patient has not displayed any symptoms of Huntington’s Disease (but has a family history of this condition), the neurologist may have the patient undergo pre-symptomatic testing.

Huntington’s Disease Treatment

Although Huntington’s Disease has no known cure, there are some treatment options available for patients to help manage their symptoms. These include:

  • Speech therapy
  • Language therapy
  • Occupational therapy
  • Regular exercise
  • Antidepressants to manage feelings of depression (SSRI antidepressants, tricyclic antidepressants and other types of antidepressants)
  • Mood stabilisers (including carbamazepine)
  • Antipsychotic medication (to help suppress involuntary movements)

Speech, language and occupational therapy can be a great benefit to patients diagnosed with Huntington’s Disease. These forms of therapy can help the patient express complex thoughts and cope with this disease, that can be very frightening to the patient. It is important to maintain the body in top physical and mental condition.