Huntington’s disease symptom could appear when speaking

3 min read

Considered one of the “cruellest and most heartbreaking” medical conditions, Huntington’s disease is a genetic brain disorder with no cure. The devastating illness significantly shortens peoples’ life expectancy.

Passed on by a faulty gene from one parent, it gradually damages the nerve cells within the brain. Therefore, it leads to a number of debilitating symptoms which affect movement and behaviour.

According to Brain Research UK, it is caused by a faulty gene on chromosome 4 – known as the Huntington’s gene (HTT). If one parent carries the faulty gene, the child has a 50 percent chance of inheriting the gene.

However, it is not always possible to know whether someone has the gene before they have children without getting tested first. This is because the symptoms typically start to show between the ages of 30 and 50.

But five to ten percent of people develop it before the age of 20. Either way, if you have a family history of the condition it is worth speaking to your GP about it.

Huntington’s is a progressive condition that stops parts of patients’ brains from working properly gradually over time.

Once a person has started to develop symptoms, these will slowly get worse for around 10 to 25 years until the person dies.

The NHS says that most Huntington’s patients die within 20 years of diagnosis.

Sadly there is no way to stop the disease from getting worse, although there are treatments available to help ease some symptoms.

In its earliest stages it might cause personality and behaviour changes.

This can then develop involuntary jerking or fidgety movements of the limbs.

According to the NHS, one telltale sign can affect people while talking.

“Problems speaking” is one symptom of the condition. When talking to someone with the condition they might also struggle to concentrate and display mood swings.

Other symptoms to be aware of include:

  • Memory lapses
  • Depression
  • Stumbling and clumsiness
  • Involuntary jerking or fidgety movements of the limbs and body
  • Personality changes
  • Problems swallowing and breathing
  • Difficulty moving.

These symptoms could be mistaken for other conditions such as dementia and Parkinson’s disease.

Social worker Andy Broughton from St Andrew’s Healthcare, who works with Huntington’s patients, said: “It is the cruellest and most heartbreaking illness I have ever come across.

“For those living with it, it can have the most terrible, life-changing effect.

“As time goes on, the individual can begin to lose their independence and ability to self-care, eventually becoming totally dependent on others for their most basic of needs.

“Their cognitive abilities will begin to decline; they will lose the ability to communicate with others and to swallow, causing a significant risk of choking and chest infections.”

However, he added: “Some describe it as the worst bits of dementia, Parkinson’s and motor neurone disease all rolled into one but it doesn’t have to mean the end of the world.”

“People can ‘live well’ with Huntington’s disease and I love working in a team who help people do just that.”

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