What are the symptoms of Huntington disease?

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Early signs of Huntington's disease (HD) vary greatly from person to person. A common observation is that the earlier the symptoms appear, the faster the disease progresses.

Family members may first notice that the individual experiences mood swings or becomes uncharacteristically irritable, apathetic, passive, depressed, or angry. These symptoms may lessen as the disease progresses or, in some individuals, may continue and include hostile outbursts or deep bouts of depression.

HD may affect the individual's judgment, memory, and other cognitive functions. Early signs might include having trouble driving, learning new things, remembering a fact, answering a question, or making a decision. Some may even display changes in handwriting. As the disease progresses, concentration on intellectual tasks becomes increasingly difficult.

In some individuals, the disease may begin with uncontrolled movements in the fingers, feet, face, or trunk. These movements?which are signs of chorea?often intensify when the person is anxious. HD can also begin with mild clumsiness or problems with balance. Some people develop choreic movements later, after the disease has progressed. They may stumble or appear uncoordinated. Chorea often creates serious problems with walking, increasing the likelihood of falls.

The disease can reach the point where speech is slurred and vital functions, such as swallowing, eating, speaking, and especially walking, continue to decline. Some individuals cannot recognize other family members. Many, however, remain aware of their environment and are able to express emotions.

Some physicians have employed a recently developed Unified HD Rating Scale (UHDRS) to assess the clinical features, stages, and course of HD. In general, the duration of the disease ranges from 10 to 30 years. The most common causes of death are infection (most often pneumonia), injuries related to a fall, or other complications.

This answer is based on source information from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

Symptoms of Huntington disease grow in severity over time to affect the entire body. As the disease progresses, people with Huntington will suffer from involuntary changes in personality and mood, spontaneous facial grimaces, and problems with coordination and balance. Later, symptoms such as jerky movements, blinking, slurred speech, and problems with swallowing will become problematic.

In the advanced stages, the person will develop dementia, become bedridden, and susceptible to pneumonia. Unfortunately, death occurs approximately 15 years after the disease takes hold of the body. If Huntington disease strikes at a younger age, the symptoms can also manifest as seizures, tremors and muscle rigidity.