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Huntington’s Disease

Huntington’s disease (HD) is inherited and causes a progressive degeneration of the nerve cells within the brain. The disease has a widespread impact on functional abilities and generally results in trouble with movement and cognitive thinking.

 

About/Description

HD is a genetic disorder that is fatal and that causes a progressive, aggressive breakdown of the nerve cells in the brain. Typically speaking, the person affected by HD experiences deterioration of mental and physical abilities for which there is no current cure. It should be noted that every person with HD has a 50/50 chance of passing the faulty gene down to a child or children. Currently, approximately 30,000 people in America are symptomatic of HD, and more than 200,000 people remain at risk for inheriting the disease.

 

Symptoms

People who have been diagnosed with HD describe the symptoms as having ALS, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s disease at the same time. These symptoms include the following:

  • Changes in personality
  • Mood swings and depression
  • Impaired judgment
  • Increased forgetfulness
  • Unsteady gait
  • Involuntary movement
  • Slurred speech
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Significant weight loss

 

Brain or Physical Changes

The physical changes that commonly result from Huntington’s disease are as follows:

  • Rigidity of muscles that affects gain
  • Significant changes to fine motor skills (that could be noticeable in handwriting)
  • Tremors
  • Slight involuntary movements
  • Seizures

 

Causes and/or Risk Factors

Huntington’s disease is caused by a defect that is inherited by a single gene (also known as an autosomal dominant disorder). If a parent has Huntington’s disease, every child from that parent has a 50% chance of inheriting the gene responsible for the genetic disorder.

 

Diagnosis, Treatment, and Care

A preliminary diagnosis of Huntington’s disease most often comes after a physical exam, review of family medical history, answers to a list of specific questions, and psychiatric and neurological exams. Additionally, the doctor may order a set of brain imaging tests in order to further assess the brain’s function or structure. These tests could include MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) or CT (computerized tomography) scans that offer a detailed look into the brain. Specifically, the doctor or medical professional will be looking for certain structural changes in particular spots of the brain believed to be affected by Huntington’s disease. These tests may also be used in order to rule out the disease or to find any other condition(s) that may be creating the symptoms.

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