Huntington’s disease is a progressive neurological illness that significantly affects a person’s thinking, their movement, and their mood. HD is caused by abnormal coding of a protein, called the huntingtin protein. Everyone has the huntingtin protein. In HD, though, the abnormal coding results in some copies of the huntingtin protein that function abnormally. The presence of the abnormal huntingtin protein leads to the death of some brain cells, and this is what causes the symptoms of HD. 

HD is genetic disease. The specific type of inheritance, called ‘autosomal dominant’, means that for people who have the abnormal HD gene, each of their children has a 50% chance of inheriting the abnormal HD gene and eventually getting the disease.

Symptoms of HD typically begin in midlife, when people are often engaged in the workforce, and perhaps have young families or teenagers at home. The most obvious symptom of HD is chorea, which is the abnormal involuntary movements, and some unsteadiness with walking and movements in general. People with HD can be at risk of falling.  

Chorea and other physical signs of HD are the most noticeable to an outside observer, but we know that people with HD also experience changes in their thinking and mood. These thinking and mood changes can interfere with daily life far more than HD movements. 

Changes in thinking experienced by people with HD make it difficult to concentrate, to plan and organise activities and to solve problems.  Often the thinking changes that result from HD make it hard for the person affected to continue working or to drive a vehicle. 

People with HD also experience changes in their mood. These symptoms vary greatly from person to person and can commonly include irritability, depression, apathy, and anxiety. Sometimes, when these symptoms are very severe, a person might experience hallucinations, delusions or obsessive compulsive like behaviours. 

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Huntington’s Disease Network of Australia

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