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Huntington's disease

Huntington's disease (HD) is a disorder in which certain nerve cells in your brain die. It is caused by a single defective gene. The loss of nerve cells produces uncontrolled movements, behavior changes, and problems with thinking. Early symptoms include:

  • Mood swings
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Trouble driving
  • Problems remembering, learning new things, or making a decision

Symptoms get worse over time. The disease can reach the point where swallowing, eating, speaking, and walking become very hard. Some people cannot recognize friends or family members.

HD has no cure. The age of symptom onset and how fast the disease progresses vary from person to person. But medicines can help treat HD symptoms, including involuntary movement. If you have HD, it is very important to stay physically active as long as possible. Those who exercise and stay active tend to do better than those who do not.

If you have a parent with HD, you have a 50 percent chance of inheriting the defective gene that causes HD. You can take a blood test to see if you have the gene. If you want to get the test, go to a center with experience in counseling people at risk for Huntington's disease.

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Content last updated: September 22, 2009.

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