Huntington's Disease 101

by Shailan Stefaniak

What is Huntington's Disease?

Huntington's Disease (HD) is a brain disorder that affects a person's social abilities, such as the ability to speak, and his / her's mobility. This is because the disease destroys cells in the basal ganglia, the part of the brain that controls movement, emotion, and cognitive ability. Within the affected area, there are very high amounts of "CAG", the coding of the Huntington gene. Because of these high amounts, cell death increases, and patients lose 25% of their brains before they die.

How Do People Get It? (Because I sure don't want to)

Huntington's Disease is inherited from the parents because it is a dominant trait. Therefore, if your parents have the disease, you will most likely have it too.


Even though HD is dominant, there are not many people who have this disease. This is because those with the disease usually die before they can pass it on.

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Symptoms and Diagnosis

When: Symptoms can start to show from ages 30-50, but they can also appear earlier. Overall, though, the disease gets worse over time, so it becomes more visible then.


What: Symptoms include:


  • poor memory
  • depression
  • mood swings
  • lack of coordination
  • twitching and uncontrollable movements
  • difficulty walking
  • difficulty speaking
  • difficulty swallowing



Diagnosis:

- Before Birth: a pregnant woman can find out if her child will have the disease through amniocentesis or chorionic villus sampling, both involving taking samples around the fetus.

- After Birth: a series of neurological and psychological tests are conducted, and then a genetic test then confirms the diagnosis as to if the child is positive or negative for having Huntington's disease.

Treatment

There is no official treatment that cures the disease, but there are treatment options that the patient can have so that they may be more comfortable. Medication that could be taken include those to ease feelings of depression and anxiety, and some to control involuntary movements. Physical and speech therapy is also an option so that patients may have a more normal and stabilized life.
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