Huntington’s disease is a genetic disorder of the brain. This disease is untreatable and fatal due to cell damage of the nerves in the brain. The damage is usually severe and causes the nerves to dysfunction. In most cases of Huntington’s disease, the onset of the disease happens when the patient is in their thirties or forties. In some rare cases, symptoms are noticed in children as well.
While there is no cure for Huntington’s disease, identifying Huntington’s disease symptoms early will help in the management of the disease. Here are the symptoms of Huntington’s disease.
The early symptoms of Huntington’s disease involve motor skills. These may include the following:
- Change in handwriting
- Difficulty in everyday physical activities
- Mild twitching of fingers, toes, and even of the face
Apart from these physical symptoms, there are also some subtle emotional and intellectual symptoms.
- Short-term memory loss
- Bouts of depression and irritability
- Inability to manage new changes and schedules
These symptoms are very generic and hard to diagnose as they can be mistaken for any other disease. There are many tests involved in the diagnosis of Huntington’s disease. Have a look at a few.
- Reflex tests
- Muscle strength
- Sense of touch
- Eye movement
- Language function
- Mental agility
- Spatial understanding
- Behavioural patterns
- Judgement quality
- Substance abuse
- Coping skills
- Thought patterns
Brain Imaging and Function
Tests such as MRI and CT scans can be used to look for any structural changes in the brain. While these tests may not reveal much in the early stages of Huntington’s disease, it can be used to eliminate any other conditions that could be responsible for the symptoms.
If you do not have a family history of Huntington’s disease, then genetic testing is the most reliable option. This test will determine if you carry the gene for Huntington’s disease.
The physical, intellectual, and emotional symptoms will increase in severity as the disease progresses. Patients will suffer from tics and spasms of the face, neck, limbs, and torso. Some patients will have rigid muscles rather than involuntary movement. Patients can suffer from seizures, depression, and bipolar disorders.
As Huntington’s disease advances, patients will start noticing symptoms that will cause an upheaval in lifestyle. These include:
- Inability to focus on tasks
- Lack of flexibility
- Tendency to get stuck on a thought, behavior or action
- Lack of impulse control
- Lack of self-awareness
- Slow thought process
- Learning difficulties
Treatment of Huntington’s Disease
Huntington’s disease has no cure. The treatment for this disease is to regulate the symptoms associated with movement and psychological disorders. As the disease progresses, the medication will have to be changed in order to make room for new symptoms. Sometimes, the medications themselves will cause side effects.
The first step is to delay the onset of Huntington’s disease symptoms through medication and lifestyle changes.
The key to delaying Huntington’s disease symptoms is keeping your brain and body fit. Any step that ensures this must be incorporated into the patient’s lifestyle. Exercising is known to be extremely beneficial for the brain. Eating right is good for the patient’s health as well the brain’s health. Giving your brain a challenge like crossword puzzles and Sudoku will keep its cognitive abilities sharpened.
Medication can be prescribed to deal with symptoms of depression and anxiety. The same can be done for any small physical symptoms.
- Tetrabenazine is the most reliable drug for treating the physical symptoms of Huntington’s disease. The drug is an effective deterrent to the spasms and twitches though it can worsen the symptoms of depression.
- Antipsychotic drugs can be useful in suppressing physical symptoms though they could cause side effects. These can also help with any bouts of violence or agitation.
- Antidepressants will ease the burden that comes with Huntington’s disease.
- Mood stabilizing drugs will help any patient suffering from bipolar disorder.
Psychotherapy is important for maintaining the quality of life of a patient diagnosed with Huntington’s disease. A psychotherapist can help the patient manage behavioral shifts, expectations, and communication with family and friends.
Huntington’s disease can affect the muscles of the mouth and throat. This can severely impair the patient’s ability to talk, chew, and swallow. A speech therapist can work with the patient to help them with these issues.
Huntington’s disease is a highly debilitating disease, one that is difficult for not just the patient, but also the family of the patient. An occupational therapist can work with both the patient and the family on the usage of assistive devices to make the patient’s everyday movements easier. These include handrails, assistive devices in the bathroom, and eating utensils designed for people with limited motor skills.
Patients suffering from Huntington’s disease must plan for their care. Since this disease results in the loss of both mental and physical function, the patient must anticipate the care they will need as the disease progresses. Consulting with support organizations will help in this matter.