Huntington disease is a brain disorder in which brain cells, or neurons, in certain areas of your brain start to break down. As the neurons degenerate, the disease can lead to emotional disturbances, loss of intellectual abilities, and uncontrolled movements.
Huntington disease has 2 subtypes:
- Adult-onset Huntington disease. This is the most common form of Huntington disease. People typically develop the symptoms in their mid-30s and 40s.
- Early-onset Huntington disease. In rare instances, children or adolescents will develop the disease. Children with the disease tend to experience abrupt difficulties with schoolwork and often have symptoms that are quite similar to Parkinson disease.
- Mood swings
- Trouble driving
- Trouble learning new things
- Forgetting facts
- Trouble making decisions
As the disease progresses, the following symptoms become more common:
- Trouble feeding oneself
- Difficulty swallowing
- Strange and uncontrolled movements that are either slow or wild and jerking (chorea)
- Loss of memory and judgment
- Changes in speech
- Personality changes
- Disorientation and confusion
- Hallucinations, paranoia, and psychosis
In children, the symptoms often include Parkinson disease‒like features such as:
- Slow movements
As Huntington disease progresses, you will need constant assistance and supervision because of the debilitating nature of the disease. People usually die from the disease within 15 to 20 years of developing symptoms.
If you have been diagnosed with, or are at risk for Huntington disease, it is critical to maintain your physical fitness as best you can. People who exercise regularly and stay active tend to do better than those who don’t.
A number of studies are currently under way to examine possible therapies for Huntington disease. Talk with your health care provider about whether any of these therapies may be helpful to you or a loved one with the disorder.