Huntington’s disease is a neurodegenerative disease that is inherited from one family member to another. If a parent suffered through the disease, there is a fifty percent chance that a child may suffer through it as well. The disease is classified as neurodegenerative because it causes nerve cells found in the brain (neuro) to progressively breakdown (degenerate) over time. Described by an American physician named George Huntington on February 15, 1872, the impact of the disease is so devastating that it affects their physical and cognitive functions and may even lead to psychiatric disorders. Unfortunately, the combination of all these can permanently alter the lives of those who care for the person suffering from it just as severely.
Though the symptoms may begin to appear in older adults, possibly those in their 40s or 50s, the onset of Huntington’s disease can occur either earlier or later. The onset can even occur before one enters their 20s and this is known as juvenile Huntington’s disease. If this very early onset does occur, the presentation of symptoms is different from those who have the disease later in life and can lead to a quicker progression for the disease.
There is no set number or set order of signs and symptoms that occur in sufferers of the disease. It is a disease that affects one’s movement, thinking, and mental capacity. Over time, the disease may show a greater impact on the ability of one to function normally during the course of their daily life. Some of the symptoms and disorders associated with Huntington’s disease are as follows:
- · Chorea – A patient exhibits involuntary movement, i.e. jerking or writhing
- · Dystonia – A patient exhibits muscular contractions which are often sustained and manifest as repetitive movements or abnormal posturing
- · A patient’s posture appears impaired and has difficulty maintaining a sense of balance
- · A patient has difficulty in swallowing as well as producing sounds and speech
Note: While the aforementioned symptoms are involuntary in nature, a patient may also show difficulty in voluntary movements and this, in turn, can impact the way they perform everyday chores and routines.
- · Perseveration – A patient exhibits the involuntary repetition of a specific response
- · A patient exhibits a lack of impulse control that can often result in emotional outbursts or doing things that they would not usually do or without taking into consideration the consequences of such actions
- · A patient exhibits difficulty in maintaining their focus on the task at hand
Mental capacity-related symptoms
- · Depression – A patient experiences feelings of depression due to the degeneration in their brain’s nerve cells
- · Mania – A patient exhibits elevated mood or energy levels
- · Bipolar disorder – A patient exhibits alternating episodes of depression and mania
As far as treatments go, the sad reality is that Huntington’s disease has no known cure nor can any treatment improve a patient’s prognosis. However, medication can be prescribed to manage certain disorders caused by the disease and the patient can be taught to adapt temporarily.
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