By Emily Deryck, RPhT

Huntington’s Disease is a rare, incurable, genetic brain disorder. Triggered by a faulty gene which causes brain cells to break down, it leads to difficulties in physical, emotional, and thinking skills. Symptoms of Huntington’s Disease usually start to appear when people are in their 30s and 40s. A rarer form of the disease occurs in children or teens. If you have the Huntington disease gene, you will eventually develop the disease and your children have a 50% chance of acquiring it.

Early symptoms of Huntington’s Disease are:

  • Mood swings
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Trouble driving
  • Difficulty learning new things.
  • Problems making decisions.
  • Forgetting facts

Later symptoms:

  • Trouble feeding oneself.
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Strange and uncontrolled movements that are either slow or wild and jerking.
  • Loss of memory and judgement
  • Changes in speech
  • Personality changes
  • Disorientation and confusion
  • Hallucinations, paranoia, and psychosis

In children, symptoms include Parkinson-like features:

  • Slow movements
  • Rigidity
  • Tremors

A thorough physical and neurological exam along with a family history of the disorder is used to diagnose Huntington’s Disease. CT, MRI, and PET scans can evaluate any brain cell damage and tissue loss. Special blood tests can determine the possibility of developing the disease.

Since there is no cure for Huntington’s Disease, the goal of treatment is to manage symptoms and maintain physical fitness for as long as possible. Drugs like haloperidol, tetrabenazine, and amantadine may be used to help control the unusual movements and help offset hallucinations and delusional thoughts. Antidepressants and antianxiety medications may also be prescribed. Research continues to develop new therapies which may prove helpful for those affected by this disease