Recognising the early warning signs of Huntington’s disease: A guide to symptoms and diagnosis

Huntington’s disease is a hereditary, neurodegenerative disorder that gradually affects a person’s motor skills, cognitive abilities, and emotional well-being.

While this condition is relatively rare (impacting around 12 in every 100,000 people in the UK), it has a significant effect not just on those diagnosed but also on their families.

Because the disease is genetically inherited, the emotional burden often extends to multiple family members who may also be at risk.

Understanding the early warning signs of Huntington’s disease can help speed up the diagnosis and management.

Cognitive symptoms

  • Short-term memory loss: Early cognitive symptoms may include difficulty recalling recent events or conversations.
  • Difficulty in multitasking: People may find it increasingly challenging to manage multiple tasks at the same time, which can impact work performance.
  • Impaired judgment: Decision-making skills may be compromised, including a lack of awareness of personal limitations or risky behaviours.

Motor symptoms

  • Involuntary movements: Fidgety movements, clumsiness, and a lack of coordination are some of the first motor symptoms to emerge.
  • Changes in handwriting: As fine motor skills deteriorate, you may notice changes in handwriting, which can become cramped or illegible.
  • Difficulty in swallowing: This is a more advanced symptom but can manifest subtly in the early stages, leading to occasional choking or coughing during meals.

Psychiatric symptoms

  • Depression: Symptoms can range from mild feelings of sadness and hopelessness to severe depression requiring medication and therapy.
  • Irritability and aggression: Increased irritability can lead to arguments over trivial issues, and in some cases, result in physical aggression.
  • Obsessive-compulsive behaviours: Some people may develop repetitive actions or thoughts that are difficult to control.

Getting a diagnosis

If you or a family member is experiencing multiple symptoms across these domains, you should make an appointment with your GP so that they can give you a more comprehensive evaluation.

Genetic testing can confirm the presence of the Huntington’s disease gene, but it’s essential to consult experts in neurology and genetics to discuss the implications of such a test, as it could create an even greater emotional burden.

Recognising the early signs of Huntington’s disease is crucial for timely diagnosis and treatment. While there is currently no cure for the disease, symptomatic treatment can significantly improve the quality of life for those affected.

Family members also benefit from early diagnosis as it allows for better planning and preparation for the emotional, financial, and healthcare needs that arise as the disease progresses.

At Synergy Complex Care, we are experienced in working with clients with Huntington’s disease and understand the need for a tailored approach to care provision.

Due to the progressive nature of Huntington’s disease, we build our complex care around the symptoms, needs, and chosen lifestyle of our clients, allowing them to live their life as independently as possible.

If you would like to talk to us about a care plan for yourself or a loved one with Huntington’s disease, please get in touch today.

Posted in General.