Content Warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention topics that include prescription medication, abuse of medication, and addiction. The information found in the article is not a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have.
As we get older, there are a plethora of new diseases that we may learn about and be afraid of. The human body is a complex organism that sometimes has challenges that we can’t be prepared for. One of the more rare conditions that some people learn about is Huntington’s Disease.
Huntington’s disease is an inherited and rare disease that causes breakdowns in a person’s nerve cells in the brains. It can have a variety of symptoms and greatly impacts a person’s way of life over time. Though some people who have this disease are able to carry out life with minimal distraction at first, the degenerative nature of the disease is likely to make symptoms worse over time. There are treatment options available for people who have been diagnosed with Huntington’s disease, but unfortunately they cannot cure the person who has it.
Since Huntington’s disease is a genetic disorder, there is a 50% chance that a person who has it will pass the gene on to their offspring. It is caused by a mutation in the HTT gene in the brain, which is responsible for caring for nerves in brain cells. Someone who has Huntington’s disease has an HTT gene that attacks these nerve cells rather than aid them, which causes them to break down. The disease was discovered by George Huntington in the 1800s, and it affects an estimated 1 in 10,000 people on the planet.
For more information on how Huntington’s disease can affect a person’s mental health, check out these resources from BetterHelp. Learning more about the disease after a diagnosis can help you better understand it and what to expect. Though there is no cure for Huntington’s disease, there are ways to treat it to reduce symptoms and make life more comfortable.
There is a wide range of symptoms of Huntington’s disease that can affect a person’s physical and emotional well-being.
Physically, common symptoms are:
- Involuntary jerking
- Muscle issues, such as rigidity or tenseness
- Abnormal or slow eye movements
- Impaired posture and balance
- Difficulty with speech or swallowing
Emotionally and cognitively, common symptoms are:
- Difficulty with organization
- Feeling “stuck” on certain thoughts, and feeling unable to put thoughts together
- Affected impulse control
- Slowness in learning new information
- Feeling irritable, sad or disinterested in life
- A desire to be alone more often, and social withdrawal
Someone who has Huntington’s disease may feel overwhelmed with their disorder, and find it difficult to handle the loss of control that they experience with their body and mind. It’s also possible for a person to deal with difficult emotions surrounding the terminal nature of the disease, and find it more challenging to be around people. Explaining the disease to others may cause them discomfort, along with the physical, cognitive and emotional toll it takes on the body.
What To Expect
Unfortunately, there is currently no cure for Huntington’s disease. Most people learn of their diagnosis between the ages of 30 and 50, but juvenile cases do happen. Receiving proper treatment in the early stages of the disease can help slow down the degeneration of nerve cells in the brain. It’s important to speak to a physician if you feel that you may have symptoms of this rare condition.
When being treated for Huntington’s disease, the goal is to manage symptoms as much as possible. Though there is no way to reduce the damage that the disease causes on nerve cells in the brain, there are ways to make a person’s life more comfortable and adapt treatment as you go. It’s likely that a person with this disease will eventually need home care and assistance doing most physical tasks, and so preparing for this ahead of time can help ensure that they receive the help that they need.
Treatment is based on the severity of symptoms and how it affects each individual. Some people have found that a combination of physical and speech therapy can help people adapt to their disease, along with medication that’s designed to reduce involuntary movement. It’s also important to treat your mental health. Seeing a therapist can help you cope with the emotional toll that the disease takes.
Juvenile Huntington’s Disease
Juvenile Huntington’s disease is a less-common, more aggressive form of the disease that starts in childhood or adolescence (before a person turns 20). Unfortunately, if a person is diagnosed at a younger age, the progression of the disease often occurs at a much more rapid pace. Treatment is generally focused on enhancing a person’s quality of life while their symptoms progress and adapting to the needs of the individual.
Symptoms of juvenile Huntington’s disease are similar to those who experience it in adulthood. This can sometimes be more difficult to spot since children may not recognize the symptoms as uncommon, or be cognitively developed enough to spot emotional changes in their wellbeing. It’s important for parents to keep a close eye on changes in physicality and behavior in their children.
If someone you know has Huntington’s disease, make an effort to learn about the disease and be there as a pillar of support. Having loved ones around can make symptoms feel less overbearing, and help a person feel more comfortable. Ask your loved one what you can do to help them, and find ways to be involved in their treatment plan.
About the author
Marie Miguel has been a writing and research expert for nearly a decade, covering a variety of health- related topics. Currently, she is contributing to the expansion and growth of a free online mental health resource with BetterHelp.com. With an interest and dedication to addressing stigmas associated with mental health, she continues to specifically target subjects related to anxiety and depression.
Speaks from heart, always too passionate and driven by emotions. Spins the words with kindness & sharpness, intriguing your ever-inscrutable minds.