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What are the Symptoms of Huntington's Disease?

By Debra Durkee
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Huntington's disease is a degenerative condition with symptoms that get worse as the disease progresses. The symptoms of Huntington's disease usually begin to manifest themselves in middle-aged individuals, though the younger a person is when the disease develops, the faster symptoms will progress. Symptoms include involuntary facial movements, clumsiness, and personality changes in the early stages, and later progress to include slurred speech, difficulty swallowing, impaired coordination and balance, and sudden, uncontrollable movements.

Early symptoms of Huntington's disease are mild, and observers may notice changes before the afflicted individual does. These can include changes in personality, from irritability and anger to depression, apathy and a loss of interest in things the person previously enjoyed. Coordination may decrease, the individual may have difficulty keeping on balance, and motor skills become clumsy. Cognitive abilities may also become impaired, and an individual may become forgetful or have difficulty retaining new information. Some also may develop a habit of involuntary facial expressions or tics.

Huntington's disease typically manifests itself in middle-aged individuals, but occasionally afflicts younger people. In these young individuals, the disease can look somewhat different. Here, symptoms of Huntington's disease can include rigid muscles, tremors or shaking, and slow movement. In the earliest stages of Huntington's, the individual can also begin to suffer from seizures.

Once the disease has become fully fledged, symptoms can begin to take on a slightly different look. Movements throughout the entire body can become sudden and jerky, a conditions called chorea. Balance and coordination can become severely impaired, and eye movements are rapid and involuntary. In later stages, speech becomes hesitant, difficult, and halted or slurred. Individuals may also show signs of dementia.

Huntington's disease is genetic, so those who have a family history of the disease are particularly prone to developing it. While many of the symptoms of Huntington's disease can be the manifestation of a number of other conditions, consultation with a health professional should be sought with any of these noticeable conditions. Presence of Huntington's symptoms do not necessarily mean the disorder is present, but a genetic test can tell whether or not an individual carries the defective gene.

Since symptoms of Huntington's disease typically manifest themselves in middle age, many parents who carry the defective gene responsible for the illness have already had children. Children who have one parent with Huntington's disease have a 50% chance of carrying the gene themselves, although those individuals who do not inherit this gene cannot pass it on to their own children, and the disease will end with that child. Those who do inherit the gene will eventually develop the disease, however.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

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