Dr. Kathleen Shannon, a neurologist with a genetic testing center for Huntington's
disease, lists the range of symptoms the disease commonly causes.
Victims, who span all races and ethnicities, may show any combination of symptoms,
complicating diagnoses and symptomatic treatments.
Common symptoms fall into three categories.
- Motor problems include clums-iness, decrease in coordination, slurred
speech, difficulty in swallowing, chorea (involuntary movements), poor balance, problems walking, intoxicated appearance,
and twitchy and fidgety spasms.
- Personality changes -- irritability, temper tantrums, sometimes
violent outbursts, depression, paranoia and obsessive compulsive behavior.
- Cognitive difficulties, which
tend to show up later on in the disease, can involve memory, mental flexibility, fluency of thought, organization, an inability
to make a mental strategy, and poor communication. The latter can be
especially frustrating to the patients exacerbating other areas. "They can feed off each other a lot," Shannon notes.
There are now 25,000 to 30,000 people afflicted with the disease in the United States. An
additional 150,000 are at risk.
Research on the disease, Shannon explains, involves several areas of study. One is better
treatment of symptoms. "This doesn't affect the long-term degenerative nature of the disease," she notes, "but
it vastly improves the quality of life for the patients."