Huntington’s Disease: Causes, Symptoms & Treatments

Huntington’s disease (HD) is an inherited disorder that causes nerve cells known as neurons in the brain to gradually break down and die. The disease targets the part of the brain that is in charge of voluntary actions, as well as other areas. People living with HD develop uncontrollable dance-like movements (chorea) and abnormal body posture. The condition may also affect their behavior, thinking, emotions, and personality.

You may have Huntington’s disease if you are experiencing uncontrolled movements in your fingers, feet, face, or torso. These movements are signs of chorea. They tend to get more intense when the person is nervous or distracted. Without immediate treatment, HD will progress, resulting in more extreme and obvious movements.

Symptoms of Huntington’s Disease

Symptoms of HD are more common amongst middle aged people (adult HD). They can also appear in children, and it is called juvenile HD, although it is rare. The disease worsens over time.

Early signs of HD can vary, but often include clumsiness, difficulty standing straight, or moving, cognitive or psychiatric symptoms (problems with thinking or emotion), and behavioral changes.

For some people, it can be difficult to walk due to chorea, thereby increasing chances of falling. However, not everyone that has HD develops chorea instead, they may become rigid (stiff) and move very little or not at all. This condition is known as akinesia. In some cases, one may first develop chorea then later become rigid as the disease progresses.

In addition to chorea, some people have dystonia, a condition where one has unusual fixed (unchanging) postures. A person can experience both akinesia and dystonia.