What is Huntington disease?
Huntington disease is a genetic disorder that causes a slow breakdown of specific nerve cells in the brain.
Symptoms usually start between ages 35 and 40
The disease breaks down the part of your brain that helps you make smooth and coordinated movements
Movements become slow, jerky, and clumsy, and your speech gets slurred
Mental functions are affected so you become depressed and irritable, and your memory and thinking get worse
Once symptoms start, they keep getting worse and eventually cause death in 13 to 15 years
A blood test can tell doctors whether you have the gene responsible for the disease
What causes Huntington disease?
Huntington disease is caused by a gene inherited from one of your parents. The gene leads to the slow breakdown of the part of your brain that helps you think and make smooth and coordinated movements.
What are the symptoms of Huntington disease?
Symptoms usually start in adulthood.
The most common first symptoms include:
Jerky, uncontrolled movements in your legs and arms
Odd, jerky walk
Mental and personality changes, such as confusion, poor impulse control, depression, or anger
As the disease gets worse, you:
Have trouble doing basic tasks such as getting dressed, bathing, and using the toilet
Eventually you'll need full-time care. Most people die about 13 to 15 years after symptoms start.
How can doctors tell if I have Huntington disease?
If you have symptoms of Huntington disease, doctors will:
Do genetic tests on your blood
Make certain you don't have some other brain disease by doing tests such as CT Computed Tomography A CT scan uses a large machine shaped like a large donut to take x-rays from many angles. A computer then takes the x-rays and creates many detailed pictures of the inside of your body. Each... read more or MRI scan Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) MRI is a test that uses a machine with a powerful magnet to make pictures of the inside of your body. A computer records changes in the magnetic field around your body. The computer then uses... read more
If the tests show Huntington disease or if someone in your family had Huntington disease, doctors will suggest:
If you have Huntington disease, genetic counseling will help you understand the risks of passing the disease on to your children.
If you haven't been diagnosed with Huntington disease but you have a family history of it, genetic counseling can help you decide whether you want to get tested. Some people don't want to know whether they have a fatal disease. Others want to know whether any children they have would be at risk.
How do doctors treat Huntington disease?
There's no cure, but doctors can treat many of your symptoms and help you plan for your future. They may prescribe:
Medicine to help ease your symptoms
Antidepressants, if you're depressed
You should talk to your doctor about an advance directive Advance Directives Health care advance directives are legal documents that communicate a person’s wishes about health care decisions in the event the person becomes incapable of making health care decisions. There... read more . In an advance directive, you make your medical care choices clear in writing to your doctor and family while you're still able to.