Huntington's disease is a complex neuropsychiatric disease that produces three main types of symptoms: difficulty controlling movement, difficulty with emotion and behavior, and difficulty thinking.
The most common movement problem is chorea, which are large, jerky, dance-like movements. Other problems can include slowed movements, sustained twisting movements, small twitch-like movements in the limbs, and difficulties speaking and swallowing.
Problems with thinking can include difficulty paying attention, problems with mental planning and flexibility, inability to successfully perform mental tasks (eg, balancing a checkbook), and memory loss. These problems can appear before the first signs of motor impairment emerge.
There can be emotional and behavioral changes that are particularly challenging for the patient and family members as well. These can include anxiety, depression, lack of motivation, impulsivity, emotional outbursts, and mood swings. In the first year after diagnosis, there is a higher incidence of depression and suicidal thoughts. As many as 40% of people with the condition may experience depressive symptoms. Speaking with a doctor is important if you or your loved one has this condition. Depressive or suicidal thoughts should be monitored closely.
People with Huntington’s disease become increasingly impaired over the course of the illness. In the later stages of the disease, patients lose the ability to walk or speak. They frequently lose a significant amount of weight and can have difficulty sleeping. They usually become completely dependent on others for activities of daily living, such as dressing, grooming, and feeding.
Ultimately, the most common causes of death associated with this disease are pneumonia, aspiration of food or impaired swallowing, heart disease, and infections.