Huntington's Disease

Do you have a family history of Huntington's disease? This complex illness calls for more than just the highest medical knowledge. The Spectrum Health memory disorders neurological team is alongside your family to preserve your quality of life. For the journey, we're committed to giving you every resource you need.

Huntington's disease is a genetic disorder that progressively breaks down nerve cells in the brain. Often symptoms like personality changes, involuntary movements or slurred speech appear between ages 30 and 50. Children of parents with the gene have a 50/50 chance of developing the disease. Medications and therapies are helpful in controlling symptoms.

Treatments and Services for Huntington's Disease

Huntington’s disease is familiar to our experts. We understand its undeniable challenges for your entire family. Our staff of memory and movement disorder experts offer support and education to help you cope and prepare. Your care team focuses on improving your health by managing symptoms of Huntington's disease with medicines.

While there is no cure for Huntington’s disease, that doesn’t mean there’s no hope. If breakthroughs happen, you can be confident we'll be at the forefront of bringing it to you. As symptoms progress, our neurologists are there with you, adjusting your medicine and providing ongoing guidance. 

Urine Tests
There are countless reasons that you may need blood tests or a urine analysis, and there are just as many reasons you'd rather not. Nobody wants to wait around or even find the time to do it. Spectrum Health will help you to sail through a pain-free, hassle-free blood draw or urine test. We make it possible with dozens of labs throughout the West Michigan communities we serve.

Neuro Rehabilitation
Our interdisciplinary rehabilitation teams are dedicated to providing expert and coordinated care to help you return to the highest level possible of independence, functioning and mobility. Your care may include neuropsychology, physical, occupational and speech therapy, recreational therapy, music therapy, clinical nutrition and case management and social work. Our treatment interventions are designed to maximize your abilities and may include one or all of the above, depending on your needs.

Neuropsychology is a specialized branch of psychology devoted to the study of brain-behavior relationships. We understand how neurological, medical and emotional conditions affect brain function, intellect, behavior, personality and emotion.  The primary role of a neuropsychologist is to conduct evaluations and provide consultation on both an inpatient and outpatient basis. At Spectrum Health Medical Group, your neuropsychologist works closely with other neurologists and specialists to help provide you comprehensive care.

PET-CT Scans
Spectrum Health offers the latest PET-CT scanning technology, enabling us to produce high quality images and enhanced information for diagnosis and treatment. The combination of PET and CT imaging technologies helps us better evaluate cardiovascular disease and neurological conditions. This type of scan also helps detect cancer within your body and determine whether your current treatment is working.

What Is Huntington’s Disease?

Huntington’s disease (or Huntington’s chorea) involves degeneration of certain parts of the brain. These parts control movement, thinking, memory, perception, and intelligence. About 30,000 people have this disease in the US. At least 150,000 others have a 50% chance of getting the disease.

Today, genetic testing can confirm the diagnosis.

What Causes Huntington’s Disease?

This inherited disorder is passed from parents to children. The specific cause is a mutation of a gene on chromosome 4. A mutation means that an error was made in building blocks that make up the DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid). DNA carries genetic information. The mutation leads to too much protein called huntingtin being made. This protein may cause a loss of brain cells and symptoms of the disease.

What Are the Symptoms of Huntington’s Disease?

This disease can occur between the ages of 2 and 70 years but is usually diagnosed in early adulthood, at age 30 to 40. Uncontrolled movements called chorea, unsteadiness, clumsiness, loss of balance, slurred speech, and trouble swallowing and eating are symptoms. Chorea is a twisting dance-like motion, usually starting in the feet, fingers, face, or upper chest. Anger, mood swings, irritability, loss of memory, and poor judgment can also occur. Not all people have these exact symptoms. Some may appear rigid, with little movement, or have fine twitching with tremors.

The disease is progressive, meaning slow loss of motor and thinking skills continues. Death can result, most often from pneumonia or complications from injuries.

How Is Huntington’s Disease Diagnosed?

The health care provider will make a diagnosis from the medical history, physical examination, and laboratory tests. Other tests such as computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) will be done to exclude other illnesses that may cause similar symptoms.

A neurologist (specialist in nervous system diseases) and other specialists may help with diagnosis and treatment.

How Is Huntington’s Disease Treated?

No treatment is available that will reverse Huntington’s disease.

Antidepressant medicines can be used for depression. Antipsychotic drugs (haloperidol) or benzodiazepines (e.g., diazepam or clonazepam) may help the problems with movement.

DOs and DON’Ts in Managing Huntington’s Disease:
  • DO understand that this disease is inherited. When a family member is diagnosed with Huntington’s disease, you may have overwhelming anxiety about knowing or not knowing whether you have the Huntington’s disease gene. Children of a person with the disease have a 50% chance of inheriting the disease gene.
  • DO remember that genetic markers or tests can be done to find out whether you carry the Huntington’s gene. The decision to have this test won’t be easy. Refer to guidelines of the Huntington’s Disease Society of America (HDSA).
  • DO call your health care provider if a family member has been diagnosed with Huntington’s disease.
  • DON’T forget that people with this disease need a team of caregivers. The best person to see for advice is the neurologist. Physical therapists, occupational therapists, psychiatrists, and social workers can all help with treatment.
  • DON’T be afraid to ask for more information. If you are thinking of being tested for Huntington’s disease, it is important to have pre- and post-test counseling.

Contact the following source:

  • Huntington’s Disease Society of America
    Tel: (800) 345-4372
  • American Academy of Neurology

Copyright © 2016 by Saunders, an imprint of Elsevier, Inc.

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