Huntington´s Disease (HD) is a hereditary, neurodegenerative illness that affects people of all races worldwide. The disease was named after Dr. George Huntington, a physician from Long Island that first published a description of “hereditary chorea” in 1872 in the article On Chorea and his due to his description, the disorder became known as Huntington´s Chorea. The term chorea is the Greek word for “dance”. Chorea refers to the involuntary movements, which is a common symptom of HD. Since Chorea is not the only symptom, the disorder has in later years been called Huntington´s Disease.
For a long time, little was known or published about HD but in the last 20 years, we have learnt a lot about the causes, effects, treatment, therapies and techniques for managing the symptoms of HD. After a ten-year research, scientists discovered the gene that causes HD, and important advances followed after the discovery of the gene. To date, there are no drugs to slow or stop the progression of Huntington disease; however, there are specific drugs available to reduce some of the symptoms.
HD is a brain disorder that has physical, cognitive and emotional symptoms. These symptoms are caused by the death/loss of brain cells in certain parts of the brain, specifically the basal ganglia and the cerebral cortex. The death/loss of this brain cells gradually starts affecting the cognitive ability (thinking, judgement and memory), physical ability (involuntary movements) and emotion control. These symptoms appear gradually, and the typical age of onset is between the ages of 35 to 55. It is important to note that HD can appear in youth (Juvenile HD) or older adults (late onset HD).
In most cases, people can maintain their independence for several years after the first symptoms of HD appear. A knowledgeable physician can prescribe treatment to minimize the impact of the symptoms. Allied health professionals, such as social workers, occupational and physical therapist, speech-language pathologists (speech therapists) and nutritionists, can all play a useful role in maximizing abilities and prolonging independence.