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Huntington Disease

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Signs and Symptoms

The signs and symptoms of HD are wide-ranging and can vary from person to person. Generally, symptoms become more severe as the disease progresses. Some common symptoms are listed below.

Physical symptoms

  • Rapid, involuntary movements of the fingers, limbs, and facial muscles (chorea); this varies in severity from mild twitching to more severe thrashing as the disease progresses.
  • Rapid movement of the eye used to focus from one object to another (reduced saccadic motion of the eyes)
  • Loss of motor coordination and fine motor movements (e.g., difficulty writing)

Cognitive effects

  • Reduced short-term memory
  • Concentration impairment
  • Difficulty with communication( e.g., slow, slurred speech; difficulty in finding words; disorganized speech and sentence construction)

Behavioral/personality changes

  • Change in personal hygiene and habits
  • Unusually anxious behaviour
  • Irritability and aggression
  • Depression, particularly in later stages
  • Paranoia
  • Dementia

A number of complications can arise in late-stage HD, including:

  • Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia) resulting in weight loss and increased risk of choking
  • Increased risk of respiratory disease such as pneumonia
  • Incontinence and other urinary tract problems (e.g., infections)
  • Falls and difficulty walking requiring the use of assist devices such as wheelchairs

Children with juvenile-onset HD have rigidity, slow movements, and tremors that are similar to symptoms of Parkinson disease.

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