Huntington’s disease is a disorder that causes degeneration of the nerve cells in the brain.
Huntington’s disease causes progressive degeneration in the motor control regions of the brain, as well as other regions. Patients with this condition will eventually experience broad impairments, including movement disorders, cognitive disorders and psychiatric disorders, which will grow worse over time.
Other information that is critical to fully understanding the impact of Huntington’s disease on patients includes the following facts:
- The rate of disease progression varies widely from person to person. The time from disease onset to death is typically between 10 and 30 years.
- Clinical depression is a common complication of Huntington’s, and may result in an increased risk of suicide.
- Eventually, Huntington’s will progress to the point that the patient will require assistance with all activities. Patients with advanced Huntington’s may be confined to a bed and lose the ability to speak.
Causes of Huntington’s Disease
Huntington’s disease is caused by the inheritance of a defect in a single gene and is classified as an autosomal dominant disorder. This means that if one parent carries the defect, each child has a 50% chance of inheriting it.
Symptoms of Huntington’s Disease
Huntington's disease usually causes movement, cognitive and psychiatric disorders with a wide range of signs and symptoms. Symptoms vary with each individual and may appear more dominant or have a greater effect on functional ability, but that can change throughout the course of the disease.
- Involuntary jerking or writhing movements (chorea)
- Muscle problems, such as rigidity or muscle contracture (dystonia)
- Slow or abnormal 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
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Bipolar disorder
Diagnosis for Huntington’s Disease
A preliminary diagnosis of Huntington's disease is based primarily on your answers to questions, a general physical exam and a review of your family medical history, as well as tests and evaluations such as:
- Neurological exams
- Neuropsychological testing
- Psychiatric evaluation
- Brain imaging and function
- Genetic counseling and testing
Treatment for Huntington’s Disease
Currently, there are no treatments available for Huntington’s disease that will stop or slow the progression of the disorder. Some medications can lessen some symptoms of movement and psychiatric disorders. Tampa General Hospital is committed to providing patients with compassionate, individualized care that can help to manage symptoms and improve quality of life.