Huntington disease is a genetic disorder that causes a slow breakdown of specific nerve cells in the brain.
Symptoms usually start between ages 35 and 40
The disease breaks down the part of your brain that helps you make smooth and coordinated movements
Movements become slow, jerky, and clumsy, and your speech gets slurred
Mental functions are affected so you become depressed and irritable, and your memory and thinking get worse
Once symptoms start, they keep getting worse and eventually cause death in 13 to 15 years
A blood test can tell doctors whether you have the gene responsible for the disease
Symptoms usually start in adulthood.
The most common first symptoms include:
As the disease gets worse, you:
Lose your memory and ability to think clearly (dementia)
Have trouble doing basic tasks such as getting dressed, bathing, and using the toilet
Eventually you'll need full-time care. Most people die about 13 to 15 years after symptoms start.
If you have symptoms of Huntington disease, doctors will:
If the tests show Huntington disease or if someone in your family had Huntington disease, doctors will suggest:
If you have Huntington disease, genetic counseling will help you understand the risks of passing the disease on to your children.
If you haven't been diagnosed with Huntington disease but you have a family history of it, genetic counseling can help you decide whether you want to get tested. Some people don't want to know whether they have a fatal disease. Others want to know whether any children they have would be at risk.
There's no cure, but doctors can treat many of your symptoms and help you plan for your future. They may prescribe:
You should talk to your doctor about an advance directive. In an advance directive, you make your medical care choices clear in writing to your doctor and family while you're still able to.