Huntington disease (HD) results from genetically programmed
degeneration of brain cells, called neurons, in certain areas of
the brain. This degeneration causes uncontrolled movements, loss of
intellectual abilities, and emotional disturbance.
HD is a familial disease, passed from parent to child through a
mutation in the normal gene. Each child of an HD parent has a 50-50
chance of inheriting the HD gene. If a child does not inherit the
HD gene, he or she will not develop the disease and cannot pass it
to subsequent generations. A person who inherits the HD gene will
sooner or later develop the disease. Whether or not one child
inherits the gene has no bearing on whether others will or will not
inherit the gene.
Some early symptoms of HD are:
- Mood swings
- Trouble driving
- Difficulty learning new things, remembering facts, or making
As the disease progresses, concentration on intellectual tasks
becomes increasingly difficult. The patient may have difficulty
feeding himself or herself and swallowing. He or she may have
problems with uncontrolled body movements and difficulty walking.
The rate of disease progression and the age of onset vary from
person to person.
A genetic test, coupled with a complete medical history and
neurological and laboratory tests, help physicians diagnose HD.
Presymptomatic testing is available for individuals who are at risk
for carrying the HD gene. In 1 to 3 percent of individuals with HD,
no family history of HD can be found.
Physicians prescribe a number of medications to help control
emotional and movement problems associated with HD. Most drugs used
to treat the symptoms of HD have side effects such as fatigue,
restlessness, or hyper-excitability. It is extremely important for
people with HD to maintain physical fitness as much as possible, as
individuals who exercise and keep active tend to do better than
those who do not. Treatment may also include psychotherapy, speech
therapy and nutritional therapy.
At this time, there is no way to stop or reverse the course of
HD. Now that the HD gene has been located, investigators are
continuing to study the HD gene with an eye toward understanding
how it causes disease in the human body.
National Institutes of
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care
provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a
substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER
IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the
advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to
starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a
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