Huntington's Disease: What is Huntington's Disease?

Huntington's Disease is an inherited brain disorder. It affects the part of the brain that controls thinking, emotion and movement.

Huntington's Disease typically begins in mid-life, between the ages of 30 and 50, though onset may occur as early as the age of two or as late as the 70s. The disease worsens over a 10 to 25 year period after diagnosis.

Huntington's Disease affects males and females equally and affects all ethnic and racial groups.

Early symptoms of Huntington's Disease may affect cognitive ability or mobility and include depression, mood swings, forgetfulness, slurred speech, swallowing difficulty, clumsiness, involuntary twitching and lack of coordination. Symptoms of Huntington's Disease can differ from person to person, even for members from the same family.

Huntington's Disease slowly diminishes the affected individual’s ability to walk, think, talk and reason.

As the disease progresses, concentration and short term memory diminish and involuntary movements of the head, trunk and limbs increase.

Eventually the person is unable to care for him or herself and becomes totally dependent on others.

There is, at present, no effective treatment or cure. However, it is possible to treat some of the effects, such as depression and involuntary movements with various medications.

Huntington's Disease is caused by a dominant gene which causes certain brain cells to deteriorate. Each child of a person with Huntington's Disease has a 50% chance of inheriting the expanded gene that causes the disease. If the disease does not present, the gene was not inherited and the disease cannot be passed on to any children. If the gene is inherited, the disease will eventually develop.

Approximately 30,000 Americans have Huntington's Disease and more than a quarter of a million Americans are "at risk" of having inherited the disease from an affected parent.

A test can accurately determine whether a person carries the Huntington's Disease causing gene. This genetic test can be done before a person shows any signs of the disease as part of a program providing counseling and support for the person undergoing testing. This test cannot predict when symptoms will begin for an individual.

Huntington's Disease profoundly affects the lives of entire families: emotionally, socially and economically.