Signs and Symptoms of Huntington’s Disease
Signs and Symptoms of Huntington’s Disease

Huntington’s disease is not just a physical disorder. One needs to understand the physical and mental stress it causes along with its symptoms.

Huntington’s disease causes a progressive breakdown (degeneration) of the nerve cells in the brain. The symptoms of Huntington’s disease develop mostly in people between the age of 30 to 40 years, but it can strike anyone from children to seniors. If a patient falls prey to this condition before the age of 20, it is known as juvenile Huntington’s disease. The symptoms of this condition vary depending on when one develops this disease. Over 10 to 25 years, it kills nerve cells in the brain which affects the body, mind, and emotions of a patient.

The symptoms of Huntington’s disease differ from person to person, and these symptoms can worsen if a person goes through a lot of stress and excitement. The initial signs such as abnormal movements are easily detectable. Weight loss is a constant cause of a concern through all stages of this disorder. Medical science has progressed a lot, and now, medicines are available for dealing with the symptoms of Huntington’s disease. However, one cannot prevent the physical, mental, and behavioral decline associated with the condition through treatment.

With a broad range of signs and symptoms, Huntington’s disease typically causes movement, cognitive, and psychiatric disorders. Some disorders appear to be more aggressive and have a significant effect on a patient’s ability to function normally.

Movement disorder
Huntington’s disease is linked to involuntary movements as well as impairments. A patient may exhibit actions such as:

  • Involuntary yanking or writhing movements (chorea)
  • Rigid or contracture muscles (dystonia)
  • Abnormal or slow eye movements
  • Impaired gait, posture, and balance
  • Difficulty in speech or swallowing

As time passes by, the symptoms may interfere with a patient’s day-to-day life. Even small things or chores like picking a glass of water can become difficult.

Cognitive disorders
Huntington’s disease may cause cognitive impairments such as:

  • Difficulty in maintaining an organized life. Prioritizing or focusing on tasks becomes difficult too.
  • Outbursts, acting without thinking, and sexual promiscuity can increase due to a lack of impulse control
  • Lack of awareness of one’s behavior and abilities
  • Learning new information and retaining the data can become difficult

Dependency on others causes a lot of emotional stress that leads to a strain on relationships. The patient’s health may also deteriorate due to stress. Walking and speaking without support becomes impossible and one may experience severe fidgety movements. At the same time, people with Huntington’s disease symptoms are often aware of their loved ones around them.

Psychiatric disorders
The most common mental disorder that gets elevated due to Huntington’s disease symptom is depression. Depression isn’t merely a reaction to receiving a diagnosis of Huntington’s disease but instead occurs due to damage to the brain and consequent changes in brain function. Some other psychiatric symptoms that a patient may exhibit are:

  • Feelings of irritability, sadness or apathy
  • The individual feels stressed and withdraws from socializing
  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue and loss of energy are standard in all stages of the disorder

Thoughts of death, dying or suicide frequently circle the head of a person who has Huntington’s disease.

Other common psychiatric disorders include:

  • OCD or obsessive-compulsive disorder: The person starts to display recurrent, intrusive thoughts and repetitive behaviors.
  • Mania: Impulsive behavior and inflated self-esteem with elevated moods and hyperactive actions.
  • Bipolar disorder: One minute they would feel all right, and the next minute they would be extremely agitated displaying alternating episodes of depression and mania.

Symptoms of juvenile Huntington’s disease
The symptoms of Huntington’s disease in young people vary slightly from adults. The problems often present themselves early in the course of the disease.

Behavioral changes

  • Loss of learned academic knowledge or physical skills
  • A rapid and significant drop in overall performance
  • Behavioral problems and sudden changes in likes and dislikes

Physical changes

  • Contracture and rigid muscles, especially in young children that affect their gait
  • Evident changes in handwriting and motor skills
  • Tremors and involuntary jerking moments
  • Seizures and high fever

Dealing with Huntington’s disease can be very distressing for the entire family, and the patient should receive as much support as possible from their friends and family members. Medication can help with reducing fidgety movements. Other therapies like speech or language therapy, occupational or physical therapy, and nutritional support can help solve problems with speech or swallowing, motor movements and consuming nutrient-dense foods. A patient with Huntington’s disease needs to exercise regularly to stay fit and active and to improve rigid and contracture muscles.

Dealing with physical stress is more comfortable than dealing with emotional stress, and hence, try and get the individual to enroll into social activities like working for an NGO which will help lift their mood and boost positivity. Encourage them to participate in group therapy as nothing works better than inspiration and meeting people who have already dealt with the disorder as they are the right mentors who can guide patients about what to expect in the future and how to deal with the symptoms.

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