Huntington’s disease is an inherited disease that causes the progressive breakdown of nerve cells in the brain. It affects a person’s mental health, ability to think reason and move. Symptoms usually appear between ages 30 and 50.
Baptist Health is known for advanced, superior care in diagnosing and managing Huntington’s symptoms. Our 24/7 inpatient neurology and neurosurgery services, as well as our outpatient services are available to help treat people with Huntington’s disease. In addition, we have the region’s only advanced 3Tesla, MRI, MRI spectroscopy and functional MRI technology to accurately diagnose all manner of neurologic disease, including Huntington’s disease.
You will appreciate timely appointments and a professional, friendly atmosphere where we take time to listen to your concerns. At Baptist Health, you have access to the region’s most comprehensive, multidisciplinary team of specialists and innovative therapies, including many available only through specialized clinical trials. In every way, we work to demonstrate the utmost in excellent care to those who trust us with their health.
Signs and Symptoms
Huntington’s disease symptoms can vary by person, but may include:
- Personality changes, mood swings and depression
- Forgetfulness and impaired judgement
- Unsteady gait and problems with balance
- Involuntary movement
- Muscle problems
- Slow eye movement
- Slurred speech
- Difficulty swallowing that leads to significant weight loss
To determine if someone has Huntington’s disease, we use advanced diagnostic procedures and technology to effectively diagnose, inform treatment and carefully monitor the condition. Diagnostic procedures can include:
CT scan: X-rays and computers are used to create images of the brain. This provides a more detailed picture than an ultrasound.
Genetic testing: In this test, a small sample of blood is analyzed to determine if the genetic marker for Huntington’s disease is present.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): A large magnet, radio waves and a computer are used to produce detailed pictures of the brain.
Metal status test: During this test, the physician will ask simple questions to understand a patient’s thinking, reasoning, judgment, language and memory skills.
Physical exam: A check-up for reflexes, coordination, balance, sight and hearing.
Psychiatric evaluation: An exam to understand mental, emotional and behavioral status.
In most cases, Huntington’s disease is inherited from a parent. It is not affected by lifestyle habits nor can it be caught from someone.
Risk factors cannot be controlled. Huntington’s disease is a genetic, inheritable condition. Prenatal testing for the disease can be done in select situations.
People with Huntington’s disease can consider genetic testing and family planning options in order to not pass the gene along to their children.
The symptoms of Huntington’s disease are treatable but the disease is not curable. The symptoms will continue to progress over time. Although each patient’s experience with the disease is unique, people with Huntington’s disease usually will require extensive support with personal care as the disease progresses.
Treatment and Recovery
Focus of treatment is on maintaining function and quality of life. Huntington’s treatments can help reduce symptoms, prevent complications and provide support. Medications can lessen some symptoms and treat:
- Movement disorders
In addition, psychotherapy, speech therapy, physical and occupational therapy can help a person with Huntington’s disease adapt to the changes in abilities as the disease progresses.
After onset of Huntington’s disease, functional abilities worsen over time., which can result in additional health complications including:
Poor nutrition: Many people with Huntington’s disease have difficulty chewing and swallowing, leading them to reduce or stop eating and drinking.
Pneumonia: Difficult with chewing and swallowing can increase the chances of a person choking on their food or breathing it into their lungs, which can affect breathing and cause pneumonia.
Problems with balance: Because Huntington’s disease can affect balance, falls are more likely, which can lead to serious injury.
Next Steps with MyChart
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