Huntington’s disease is a progressive neurological illness. HD is due to abnormal coding of a protein called the huntingtin protein. Everyone has the huntingtin protein. In HD, abnormal coding causes some copies of the huntingtin protein to function abnormally. The abnormal huntingtin protein leads to the death of some brain cells.
HD is a genetic disease. The specific type of inheritance, called ‘autosomal dominant’, means the HD gene can pass on to children. A child of a person with the expanded HD gene has a 50% chance of inheriting the same gene. Those with the gene will get the disease. It is possible to get tested for the huntingtin gene. Find out more here.
Symptoms of HD affect a person’s thinking, movement, and mood. Symptoms typically begin in midlife. Midlife is when people are active in the workforce and may have young families. The most obvious symptom of HD is chorea. Chorea is a movement disorder. Movements are involuntary and there may be some unsteadiness with walking. People with HD can be at risk of falling. Physical signs of HD, including chorea, are the symptoms most noticeable by others.
Changes in thinking and mood can disrupt daily life. Changes in thinking can make it difficult to concentrate, plan activities and solve problems. This makes it hard for the person affected to do some everyday tasks. Working or driving a vehicle may not be possible.
Mood symptoms vary from person to person. Symptoms can include depression, apathy, anxiety and irritability. When these symptoms are severe, a person might experience delusions or obsessive compulsive-like behaviours. Doctors can sometimes prescribe medications to help with mood symptoms.