Huntington’s disease is a rare genetic health problem that can lead to fatal consequences with the breakdown of nerve cells in the brain. It causes deterioration of a person’s mental and physical abilities during the prime years, and unfortunately, it has no cure. The condition is regarded as a quintessential family ailment because every child with an affected parent has about 50 percent chance of carrying the gene responsible for the disease. In the present scenario, there are about 30,000 individuals in America carrying the symptoms and over 200,000 people at a risk of inheriting the disease. Many experts believe that the symptoms of this disease are similar to Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s at the same time.
The symptoms of the illness occur between the age of 30 and 50, and it becomes worse within 10 to 15 years. With the passage of time, the affected person succumbs to pneumonia and other health complications. It is crucial to mention here that all human beings possess the genes that can cause this disease but only those people who inherit the expansion of the gene will be affected. This way, any person who inherits this expanded gene will slowly develop the disease. Over time, the person may lose their ability to walk, talk and think coherently.
Those individuals who are at a higher risk of developing the condition may also experience excessive stress stemming from uncertainty. A lack of knowledge about this disease often contributes to the lack of emotional and moral support to the affected individual and his family, leading to unnecessary isolation. Thankfully, the Huntington’s Disease Society of America executes a network all over the nation offering help and support for people suffering from the disease along with their families. But it is important to note that this illness can affect both sexes and anyone from any race or ethnicity around the globe.
What are the symptoms of Huntington’s disease?
• Change in personality including mood swings and frequent bouts of depression.
• Forgetfulness and impairment of reasoning abilities and judgment.
• Unsteady gait and involuntary movements of the muscles.
• Slurred speech, difficulty in swallowing, and a significant loss of weight without any reason.
Huntington’s disease affects all parts of the brain, but some parts may become more vulnerable than others. There are numerous stages of the disease, and even though the symptoms can vary from one person to another, the progression of this ailment can be divided into three primary stages.
- Early stage: The first stages of the disease begin with some a subtle change in coordination along with some involuntary movements. It also includes difficulty in thinking and irritability of mood. Sometimes, medications are effective in alleviating depression as well as other emotional issues. The impact of Huntington’s disease may make the person incapable of working at a common level and less functional in their day to day activities.
- Middle stage: In this stage, the disorder can be more impactful. Medication of chorea can be helpful in providing relief from these involuntary movements. Besides, physical and occupational therapies may also be required to maintain a control of voluntary movements and to cope up with alterations in thinking and reasoning abilities. A reduced ability to talk and difficulty in swallowing may need assistance from a speech-language pathologist. Ordinary activities also become very difficult to perform.
- Later stage: In this stage, an affected person becomes dependent on family members and caregivers. This is because choking and chorea become a primary concern at this stage. The person can no longer walk or talk at this stage even though he or she is still able to comprehend what’s being spoken. This is the stage when the person is at the maximum risk of death, but it is mostly caused by the complications of the disease rather than the illness itself.
In each of the stages of the illness, unexplained weight loss is a significant complication which gradually corresponds with other symptoms. These should be countered with the help of a proper diet and medications.
What are the treatment options available for Huntington’s disease?
The first thing that a person needs to understand is that the condition is not curable yet. At present, there is no treatment available that can contribute to reversing or slowing down its progression. However, some medicines can help in managing the symptoms. These medicines effectively reduce nausea, drowsiness, restlessness and also depression. But sometimes, these medicines need to be given along with other drug compounds for controlling violent outbursts, movements, and hallucinations.Besides speech therapy, physical therapy, and occupational therapy may also be required to help an affected individual cope up with the exertions of this fatally severe disease.