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Huntington's Disease: Symptoms and Treatment

A diagnosis of Huntington's disease may come as quite a shock. There's a lot to take in.

But tapping into a support system, such as a social worker, therapist, or support group, can make the journey a bit less daunting. With the help of a health care team, people with Huntington's can live independently for many years.

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Symptoms

Huntington's disease (HD) is a hereditary and progressive brain disorder. You can't "catch" it from another person.

Although symptoms may first show up in midlife, Huntington's can strike anyone from childhood to advanced age. Over 10 to 25 years, the disease gradually kills nerve cells in the brain. This affects the body, mind, and emotions.

Symptoms can vary greatly from person to person. And stress or excitement can worsen symptoms.

Some symptoms are easier to spot than others. Abnormal movements may be the first thing you notice. Weight loss can be a concern at all stages.

Symptoms of Huntington's disease tend to develop in stages.

Early stage. Changes may be quite subtle in early stages, making it possible to keep driving and working. You may just require a little extra help.

Some common early symptoms:

  • Slight changes in coordination, affecting balance or making you more clumsy
  • Fidgety movements that you can't control
  • Slowing or stiffness
  • Trouble thinking through problems
  • Depression or irritability

Middle stage. With time, symptoms begin to interfere more with your day-to-day life. For example, you might start to drop things or to fall. Or you may have trouble speaking or swallowing.

Staying organized may be difficult. And emotional changes may put pressure on relationships.

Late stage. In this stage, people with Huntington's must depend on others for their care. Walking and speaking are not possible, Most likely you will still be aware of loved ones around you. Fidgety movements may become severe, or may subside.

In children or teens, Huntington's may progress more quickly and cause symptoms like:

  • Stiff or awkward walking
  • Increased clumsiness
  • Changes in speech
  • Trouble learning new information, or loss of previously learned skills

Treatment

For now, treating Huntington's involves managing symptoms:

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