Huntington’s disease treatment options include drug therapy, psychotherapy, speech therapy, etc. Scroll down to find out more about the causes, symptoms and treatment of Huntington’s disease.
Huntington’s disease is a neurodegenerative familial disease associated with degeneration of nerve cells. This condition is named after an American physician called Dr. George Huntington, who first described this disorder in 1872. This disease is caused by an inherited genetic defect in the fourth chromosome. Though this genetic defect is present at birth, it is during the middle age that the symptoms start making an appearance. While the typical age of onset of symptoms is during mid 30s or 40s, in rare cases, the symptoms may appear at an early age. If the symptoms appear before the age of 20, and progress rapidly, one is diagnosed with juvenile Huntington’s disease.
The progression of the disease brings about degeneration of nerve cells. Uncontrolled movements, loss of cognitive abilities and various other abnormal behavioral changes occur as the nerve cells get wasted away. Huntington’s disease is irreversible, therefore, the treatment options that are suggested, mainly serve the purpose of managing the symptoms. The objective is to help the patient cope better with this degenerative disease.
Risk Factors and Signs of Huntington’s Disease
As mentioned earlier, Huntington’s disease is an inherited disease. If one parent suffers from this disorder, then the offspring is at an increased risk of having this genetic disorder. This defect occurs when the sequence of three DNA bases called cytosine-adenine-guanine (CAG) is repeated multiple times. This gives rise to the production of glutamine protein, which in turn, gives rise to the creation of mutant Huntingtin protein. In case of a person diagnosed with Huntington’s disease, the number of CAG repeats range anywhere between 36 to 121. If the CAG repeats are more than 50, one may exhibit signs of Huntington’s disease at an early age. As the disease progresses, the patient’s ability to think clearly may get affected. One’s ability to make decisions may also be adversely affected owing to the loss of cognitive abilities. Emotional disturbances may manifest in the form of nervousness, mood swings, restlessness, irritability, paranoia or depression. Uncontrolled movements may make one appear clumsy. Spasmodic movements, tremors, unsteady gait, problems with balance, speech changes and various abnormal symptoms may appear as the nerve cells get wasted away. The cure for this disease has not been found and thus, the treatment is aimed at preventing these symptoms from worsening and affecting the patient’s quality of life.
Treatment of Huntington’s Disease
Now that you have some idea about the symptoms of Huntington’s disease, let’s look into Huntington’s disease treatment. The nature of the disease is such that the patient not only requires medication, but also needs support. Various types of drugs may be prescribed so as to control the symptoms of Huntington’s disease. The prescribed drugs suppress the uncontrolled/involuntary contractions or muscle rigidity. Tetrabenazine is one such FDA approved drug that is used for controlling the involuntary contractions. Since this disease also causes emotional disturbance, antidepressants or mood-stabilizing drugs may also be prescribed. The use of antipsychotic drugs such as haloperidol or clozapine, or antianxiety medication may be recommended for patients suffering from anxiety or paranoia. The class of drugs that may be prescribed would depend on the symptoms that the patient may be exhibiting.
While drugs can help in alleviating the symptoms, the patient would also benefit by going for psychotherapy sessions. A psychotherapist can suggest ways to help the patient cope with the disease. Once the therapist analyzes the behavioral problems a patient may be suffering from, he/she can devise certain strategies that will help the patient. Speech therapy would prove beneficial for those who suffer from impairment of speech or have difficulty in swallowing due to problems with the muscles of the mouth and throat. Since the patient may experience problems associated with balance and coordination or may even suffer from reduced mobility, physical therapy may also prove beneficial. Since this disease affects the cognitive or intellectual abilities, the family members of the patient must be aware of the strategies that may help the patient cope with this disorder. As the muscles of the mouth may become weak, the patients become highly susceptible to choking while having meals. It is therefore, essential that the patient is given lots of liquids and pureed foods. Patients would need assistance at all times. So, family members must provide the affected person with much-needed emotional support and any kind of assistance that will make the patient’s life simpler.
Huntington’s disease is a familial genetic defect and the available Huntington’s disease treatment options include the use of drugs along with some other types of therapies. A cure for this disease has not been found yet, and the course of this genetic disorder cannot be reversed. The main approach followed by the doctors is to control the clinical symptoms and help the patient cope better with this disease. Family support plays an important role in improving the quality of life of the patient and will help a patient lead a life that is as close to normal.