Huntington's disease is caused by a faulty gene on chromosome 4. The gene produces a protein called Huntingtin. The faulty gene leads to damage of the nerve cells in areas of the brain leading to gradual physical, mental and emotional changes.
Each person whose parent has Huntington's disease is born with a 50-50 chance of inheriting the faulty gene. A genetic test is available to show whether or not someone has inherited the gene.
The symptoms of the disease usually develop when the person is between 30 to 50 years old, however they can start earlier. Symptoms can differ from person to person.
Early symptoms include: slight, uncontrollable muscular movements; stumbling and clumsiness; lack of concentration; short-term memory lapses; depression; changes of mood.
Some people who know they are at risk worry about searching for signs of developing the disease. Anyone who is concerned should consult their GP.
Later on in the illness people may develop the following symptoms: involuntary movements, difficulty in speech and swallowing, weight loss, stubbornness, frustration, mood swings, depression.
Sometimes psychological problems, rather than the physical deterioration, cause more difficulties for sufferers of Huntington's disease and their carers. It is extremely depressing to have a serious, incurable illness and not be able to do things that previously seemed simple.
Currently there is no cure, however there are many ways to manage the symptoms. Medication can be used to treat many of the symptoms and a high calorie diet can prevent weight loss. Social services can also help with adapting the home, care at home or respite care.