Huntington's Disease (HD) was originally called Huntington's Chorea. "Chorea" is a term derived from the Greek word for "dance" or "choreography". Some dance.
As the disease progresses, the individual's body and facial movements become jerky and uncontrollable. Muscles spasm and contract. Movements fluctuate between being slow and clumsy, or jerky and spastic.
Walking is unsteady, with deteriorating coordination and balance. The sufferer may stumble and fall without warning.
The face grimaces and twitches, with jaws clenching and teeth grinding. Swallowing becomes difficult. Speech is slurred.
And that's just the physical effects.
Mental abilities begin to decline. Memory loss and forgetfulness increase, and concentration falters. Judgment and decision-making is affected.
Eventually, the individual may be unable to recognize the people and things that have been part of their lives. Confusion, disorientation and hallucinations, lead the way to dementia.
Emotional changes occur. Personality is affected. Some individuals may become more pleasant, although others may experience deepening anger, depression, or hostility.
HD destroys neurons (brain cells) in a part of the brain called the basal ganglia. This area controls our thinking (cognition), speech and movement.
Huntington's Disease is genetically passed on by one or both parents. Any child of a parent with the disease has a fifty-fifty chance of getting the gene.
If a child inherits this gene, Huntington's is inevitable. If the child does not inherit the gene, they cannot develop HD, nor can they pass it on to their own children.
HD usually begins to make itself known between the ages of 30 and 50 years. A minority of cases affect children, whose symptoms may mimic Parkinson's Disease, with rigid muscles and tremor. Their life expectancy will be short, usually ending before adulthood.
There is no cure for Huntington's Disease. The course of the disease will run approximately 10 to 25 years after onset, ending in death. Most patients will die of medical complications of HD, such as choking, infections or pneumonia.