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Neurology and Neuroscience

Huntington's Disease

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About Huntington's Disease

Huntington's disease is a hereditary, degenerative brain disease that leads to uncontrolled movements, intellectual/cognitive decline, and emotional problems. Early symptoms of Huntington's disease – mood swings, irritability, depression, clumsiness, and fidgeting movements – generally appear between ages 35 to 50, and as the disease progresses over the following 15 to 20 years patients have difficulty learning new things, making decisions, driving, and eventually have great difficulty thinking, feeding themselves, and swallowing. Someone with a parent who has Huntington's disease has a 50 percent chance of inheriting the gene for the disease.

Huntington's disease is named for George Huntington, a graduate of College of Physicians & Surgeons at Columbia University in the 1870's, who published the first detailed clinical description of the disease's progression. Beginning in 1984 Columbia researchers conducted a large-scale study of a Venezuelan community where the disease is prevalent; the results of this study were the foundation of collaborative, worldwide research that identified the gene that causes this disorder in 1993.

Young adults from a family with Huntington's disease family can now be tested to determine if they are carriers of the disease. Doctors at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia's Huntington's Disease Center offer comprehensive genetic counseling and testing services for individuals with a family history of Huntington's disease.

Treatment for Huntington's Disease

Our specialized multidisciplinary team of health professionals provides the highest level of clinical care for Huntington's disease patients and their families. In addition to our extensive genetic testing and counseling program we provide primary neurological treatment and social services, offer assessments and referrals for psychiatric services, counseling, physical therapy, and speech therapy. Columbia's Huntington's Disease Center is unique in that it does not charge patients for their visits.

Currently there is no cure for Huntington's disease, but some medications can control the emotional symptoms and movement problems associated with the disease.

Rehabilitation for Huntington's Disease

Physical, occupational, speech, and nutrition therapy all help patients maintain function as long as possible. Adaptive and augmentative equipment can help patients continue to communicate effectively, remain mobile, and ensure their safety. Rehabilitation experts at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital work with patient throughout their care. They will:

  • Evaluate muscle strength and motor skills and develop an individualized program to maintain existing motor function.
  • Recommend devices including neck supports, canes, walkers, and wheelchairs and equipment for the home to ensure patient safety and mobility.
  • Discuss ways to modify activities, conserve energy, and simplify work.

Research for Huntington's Disease

Researchers at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital's are conducting studies to advance our understanding of the causes of and possible treatments for Huntington's disease.

At NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia's Huntington's Disease Center researchers are active participants in the Huntington Study Group, a national research consortium of Huntington's disease centers. Center researchers are:

  • Studying the effectiveness of new drugs that may slow the progression of Huntington's disease.
  • Developing the tests to detect the earliest symptoms.
  • Studying the link between genetic testing and behavior.

At NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell researchers are:

  • Identifying, developing, and testing potential therapies for Huntington's disease.

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