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What is Huntington's disease?

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Huntington's disease is an inherited genetic disease that causes the progressive degeneration of nerves located inside the brain, according to Mayo Clinic. It has a significant impact on an individual's functional abilities and typically causes cognitive, psychiatric and movement disorders. When the disease develops in people under the age of 20, it is refereed to as juvenile Huntington's disease.

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As Mayo Clinic explains, movement disorders seen in patients with Huntington's disease include involuntary writhing or jerking, called chorea; muscle rigidity, called dystonia; slow or abnormal eye movements; impaired balance, posture and gait; and difficulty with speaking or swallowing. Cognitive disorders associated with the disease include difficulty organizing and focusing on tasks, slowness in processing thoughts and finding words, lack of impulse control, and difficulty learning new information. Psychiatric symptoms associated with the disease include feelings of sadness or apathy, social withdrawal, fatigue and insomnia.

In patients with Huntington's disease, functional abilities slowly worsen over time. Although the rate of disease progression varies, the time from the onset of the disease to death is typically between 10 to 30 years, according to Mayo Clinic. Juvenile Huntington's disease usually causes death within 10 years. In the later stages of Huntington's disease, patients are generally confined to bed and unable to talk, but they usually have an awareness of friends and family and are able to understand language.

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