Huntington's Disease is a devastating, degenerative brain disorder that slowly diminishes an individual's ability to walk, think, talk and reason. Eventually, the person with Huntington’s Disease becomes totally dependent upon others for care. The disease profoundly affects the lives of entire families—emotionally, socially and economically.
Huntington’s Disease is caused by a single defect on a single chromosome. This gene is found in every human being and contains a triplet repeat sequence. In a case of Huntington’s Disease, the gene contains an abnormally large number of triplet repeats. The disease does not skip generations. Each child of a parent who carries the defective gene has a 50/50 chance of inheriting the gene and developing Huntington’s Disease. If a person does not inherit the Huntington’s Disease gene from an affected parent then they cannot pass it on to anyone else. More than 250,000 Americans have Huntington’s Disease or are “at-risk” of inheriting the disease from an affected parent.
There are three components to Huntington’s Disease–cognitive, motor and emotional, and an individual can be affected in one or more areas first. Early symptoms may include depression, mood swings, forgetfulness, clumsiness, involuntary twitching, and lack of coordination. As the disease progresses, concentration and short-term memory diminish and involuntary movements of the head, trunk and limbs increase. Walking, speaking and swallowing abilities deteriorate. Eventually the person is unable to care for himself. Death follows from complications such as choking, infection or heart failure.
At this time, there is no effective treatment or cure for Huntington’s Disease. Researchers are working on a number of treatments, which may slow the progression or delay onset of the disease. There are a number of interventions available today that improve the quality of life for those with Huntington’s Disease. In the early and middle stages of the disease, medications can be given to help suppress involuntary movements. Depression and other psychiatric conditions can be quite effectively treated. Proper nutrition, exercise and precautions in the home can help minimize many of the potential consequences of the disease, such as weight loss, falls and choking on food.
Huntington’s Disease Society of America:
The Huntington's Disease Society of America (HDSA) is dedicated to promoting and supporting research to find a cure for Huntington’s Disease while providing help for people and families affected by the disease and to educate the public and health care professionals about Huntington’s Disease. HDSA has created a national network of resources and referrals for Huntington’s Disease families and allied healthcare professionals through its more than 35 volunteer-based chapters and affiliates, more than 150 support groups and 21 HDSA Centers of Excellence located throughout the U.S.