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Huntington's disease is a rare condition that causes
parts of the brain to break down, or degenerate. It is also called Huntington's
chorea. The disease causes rapid, jerky body movements and the loss of normal
mental abilities (dementia). Huntington's disease can cause
personality changes, behavior problems, and memory loss. Symptoms usually develop after age 40. There is no known cure.
But treatment with medicines may help control the involuntary movements and
Huntington's disease is caused by a changed, or
mutated, gene. If you have a parent with the disease, you have a 50% chance of
getting the changed gene and the disease. But there is no way to know when you
will develop Huntington's disease. Some people may pass on the changed gene to
a child before knowing that they have the changed gene.
test can show whether you have the changed gene. You may want to have
genetic counseling if you are thinking of having the
test. Genetic counselors are experts who can explain what the test means, tell
you the benefits and risks of the test, and answer your questions. But you make
the decision about whether to have the test.
If you have a family member who has Huntington's disease, their blood usually is tested first to identify the changed gene that might run in your family. Then you give a blood sample, which is
screened for the gene change. Testing another family member also may be
important in case your family's DNA is unusual in some way that might affect
the test result.
Although this test is highly
reliable, no test is 100% accurate. Also, if you test positive, the test can't
tell you when you will develop Huntington's disease or how quickly the disease
The decision to take the test
for Huntington's disease is personal. You may have emotional, financial, and
family reasons for taking or not taking the test.
You might choose
to be tested because:
You might choose not to
be tested because:
The Huntington's Disease Society of America is dedicated
to improving the lives of people who have Huntington's disease and their
families. It promotes and supports research and medical efforts to eradicate
Huntington's disease and assists families affected by it to cope with the
problems it can cause. The Society also provides materials to educate the
public and health professionals about Huntington's disease.
Other Works Consulted
Fischbach FT, Dunning MB III, eds. (2009). Manual of Laboratory and Diagnostic Tests, 8th ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
Olanow CW (2008). Hyperkinetic movement disorders. In AS Fauci et al., eds., Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 17th ed., vol. 2, pp. 2560–2565. New York: McGraw-Hill.
November 3, 2011
Sarah Marshall, MD - Family Medicine & Siobhan M. Dolan, MD, MPH - Reproductive Genetics
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.
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