This article was developed via a partnership with BetterHelp.
There are diseases like Covid-19 that can infect everyone. And then there are illnesses such as Huntington Disease (or Huntington’s Disease or HD), which are genetic and cannot be spread like Covid.
Huntington Disease is a rare disease and so many people do not know much about it. If you are here reading this article, chances are that you’d like to learn more. Perhaps you have even been diagnosed or you know someone who has HD.
So, read on to learn more about Huntington Disease, an illness that currently affects more than 30,000 Americans.
What Is Huntington Disease?
First off, Huntingon Disease is genetic. What does that mean? That it’s inherited. So, if you have one parent with Huntington Disease, a child born to that person has a 50% chance of inheriting the gene for Huntington’s.
This mutation is on a protein called Huntingtin, which is where the name for the disease comes from. Sadly, researchers have not yet managed to prevent this mutation from occurring or fix it once it has occurred. This lack of a cure makes Huntington Disease a terminal illness, which is to say that there is no cure and so people will have it for their entire lives.
Huntington’s is usually diagnosed between the ages of thirty and fifty, though there are some exceptions. People who are diagnosed with Huntington’s under twenty years old are considered to have Juvenile Huntington’s Disease, an even more rare form of the disorder.
While it is no doubt an extreme challenge to live with Huntington’s, there are helpful resources online that can provide much needed information and support, such as those available through BetterHelp: https://www.betterhelp.com/advice/huntington-disease/
Symptoms of Huntington Disease
What happens to individuals with Huntington Disease? There are a variety of symptoms, and they tend to cause movement, cognitive, and psychiatric problems.
Read on to learn more about them.
Huntington Disease is a neurodegenerative disease, meaning that is causes issues with the brain and, by extension, the entire central nervous system. As neurons degenerate (or die) in areas of the brain tasked with movement, the body will start having trouble processing movement.
So, it’s common for patients with Huntington’s to have disruptions to their motor skills. For example, they may experience movements that are involuntary, such as jerking (“chorea” is the medical term), tremors, muscle contractions, impaired posture and balance, trouble walking, and even trouble swallowing and speaking.
With time, cognitive issues occur as the brain degenerates. Huntington’s Disease can also effect behavioral differences. For example, some patients with HD might get obsessed with particular thoughts or ideas or actions. They may also struggle to perform and complete certain tasks. Overall, there may be a noted reduction in the ability to learn and process novel information.
Unfortunately, patients may also have trouble recognizing that their cognitive abilities have changed. This can make treating Huntington’s particularly difficult as patients may effectively be in denial.
Mental health-related Symptoms
Finally, mental health-related problems are common with Huntington Disease. As the brain changes, and as the person must grapple with having a rare terminal illness, it is unsurprising that they may feel depressed.
Due to the changes in the brain and the overall stress of the situation, some patients experience mental health issues like irritability, depression, mania, introversion, insomnia, fatigue, apathy, and even suicidal tendencies.
The best option here is to pursue treatment from a mental health professional. A licensed counselor or other medical professional will have the training and tools to help treat the mental health issues that may arise from Huntington’s.
Huntington Disease is a serious illness. It is terminal, meaning that people who have it will have it for life. It is extremely rare but nonetheless terribly tragic for those who have it and their loved ones. Without any current cure, it can only be hoped that a biotechnological breakthrough will occur sooner rather than