Understanding Huntington’s Disease
Huntington’s disease is a hereditary brain disorder which is incurable. When the nerve cells are damaged, it causes different parts of the brain to deteriorate. Huntington’s disease affects functionality, cognition and behavior of those afflicted. Depending on the severity of symptoms, individuals can lose the ability to talk, walk and overall mobility during different stages of this disease. Initial symptoms are often overlooked as they can mimic other diseases of less severity.
People suffering from Huntington’s disease can exhibit a variety of physical symptoms including:
- Rigidity of muscles.
- Muscular contractures.
- Involuntary jerking of muscles.
- Gait impairment.
- Problems with balance and gait stability.
- Abnormal eye movement.
- Difficulty with speech and swallowing.
In addition to problems with functionality, people afflicted with Huntington’s disease can also exhibit a wide array of cognitive disorders such as:
- Difficulty finding the right words.
- Difficulty learning.
- Inability to control impulsive behavior resulting in outbursts.
- Demonstrates inability to focus and stay on task.
- Difficulty with organization skills.
As expected, when given the diagnosis of Huntington’s disease, the most common psychiatric disorder is depression. Individuals may also exhibit the following:
- Isolation or social withdraw.
- Feelings of overwhelming sadness, and irritability.
- Insomnia and lethargy.
- Loss of energy and fatigue.
- Thoughts of death and suicide.
In addition to the above-listed psychiatric symptoms, people with Huntington’s disease may also suffer from behavioral changes such as bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and mania. This can be largely attributed to the effects this disease has on the neurons in the brain.
Unfortunately, effective treatment hasn’t been found to stop the progression of Huntington’s disease, but there are different types of medications that can lessen the symptoms of movement disorders and psychiatric issues.
Management from a medicinal perspective will change over time and will largely depend on treatment goals. As with any medication, it’s possible that its side effects could worsen other symptoms of this disease. For this reason, it is important that an individual’s treatment plan and overall goals are reviewed on a regular basis and updated as needed. Lessening the symptoms of Huntington’s disease is a first-line course of action.