Huntington’s Disease

A disease that the symptoms are said to feel like having ALS, Parkinson’s and Alzheimers all at the same time sounds absolutely crazy.  There is a disease though that has symptoms like this.  It is Huntington’s Disease.  Huntington’s is a genetic disorder that affects about 200,000 people per year.  It is a rare disease that is inherited.  It is a genetic disorder that is passed down from people who already have the defective gene.  Only one parent has to have the defective gene for it to be passed on to their children. 

Huntington’s disease is when the body has a breakdown of nerve cells in the brain.  This is a progressive disease.  Symptoms usually present themselves in someone’s thirties or forties.  There is early onset Huntington’s disease which is when symptoms will start in childhood or adolescence.  Huntington’s disease is not curable.  Though there are some treatment options to help with symptoms. 

There are a few ways to find out if you have the Huntington’s disease gene. The first of course is looking at your family history.  If one or both of your parents carry the gene you have a 50% chance of having the gene yourself.  If you are unsure if you have a family history of the gene you can always have genetic testing done to look for the deformed gene.  If symptoms have started to present then you may be told to go through a few tests.  Some testings that can be done are neurological tests to test reflexes, coordination, balance, muscle tone, strength, sense of touch, hearing and vision.  If symptoms have started your doctor may want you to undergo a psychiatric test to see how you are coping with the disease.  

There are two stages of Huntington’s disease.  Adult onset which is the most common.  Symptoms won’t present until the age of thirty to forty.  Early onset is less common and is when symptoms present in childhood or adolescence.  Both have similar symptoms, but the progression can be much worse.  The first signs of Huntington’s disease in adult onset are depression, irritability, hallucinations, psychosis, minor twitching, poor coordination, difficulty understanding new information and being indecisive.  As the disease progresses symptoms can be uncontrollable twitching, difficulty walking, trouble swallowing, confusion, memory loss, personality changes, speech changes, and abnormal eye twitching.  Other symptoms can include lack of impulse, lack of flexibility with your schedule or things happening around you, difficulty organizing tasks, insomnia, and fatigue.  Not everyone will present with the same symptoms at the same time, nor will all people with Huntington’s progress at the same rate.  

Early onset Huntington’s tends to be much more aggressive.  The first signs of early onset are drooling, clumsiness, slurred speech, slow movements, frequent falling, rigid muscles, seizures, and a decline in school.  With early onset it is shown that the disease progresses more quickly.  Following the same symptoms as adult onset with the breakdown of nerves cells in the brain.  

There is no cure for Huntington’s disease, as well as there is no specific treatment.  The main goal behind treatment of the disease is to treat symptoms so the person with the disease can maintain normal life as long as possible.  There are medications that can be taken to stop the constant twitching, muscle rigidity, or depression.  There is physical therapy that can help improve coordination, balance and flexibility.  Occupational therapy can help with movement, eating and drinking by yourself, bathing and getting dressed.  Speech therapy is also helpful if you are having trouble talking or swallowing.  Psychotherapy to help with the emotional and mental strain this disease brings with it.  On average the lifespan after diagnosis when symptoms have started to show is ten to twenty years.  Though sometimes it can be longer.  The late stage of Huntington’s when the symptoms progress the most can last up to ten years itself. 

Depending on the person depends on how fast the disease progresses.  A lot of people with the disease that know they carry the gene decide not to have babies for the fear of passing the gene onto their children.  Since there is no cure for the disease it still may not present symptoms until late into their thirties or forties.  If you feel like you may have the disease or one of your parents has the gene there is always genetic testing to verify if you have Huntington’s gene or not if you chose.  Normal life can still be maintained with the help of some treatment for a while before the disease takes over too much. 

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