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Huntington's Chorea Symptoms and Treatment

Updated on January 6, 2010

Huntington's chorea is a distressing, incurable disease that is passed from one generation to the next. Statistically, half the children of a sufferer will develop the condition, but because the symptoms of Huntington's chorea do not become apparent until a person is between 30 and 50 years of age, it has often already been passed to the next generation who has been born to the victim at an earlier age. There is some doubt as to whether any new families are developing the disease. It is highly likely that all cases in existence can trace their disease back to previous generations.

Huntington's chorea was first described by George Huntington, a New York doctor, in a paper he wrote in 1872. Chorea is a medical term which refers to irregular, random movements of the arms, legs and face. The symptoms of Huntington's chorea are (in the most common order of appearance) irritability, mood changes, antisocial behaviour, restlessness, fidgeting, abnormal movements of the body, mental deterioration, premature senility, and rigid muscles. These symptoms may develop very slowly over several years.

There is no effective treatment available, and the inevitable progression of Huntington's chorea cannot be halted. Death within 10 to 20 years of symptoms developing is usual. Some drugs used in psychiatry can control mood changes, and muscle relaxants may ease the abnormal movements.

It is important for children in affected families to seek genetic counselling, but there is no test yet that can differentiate those who will develop the condition from those who will not. Research to find a method of identifying the carriers of Huntington's chorea is continuing, and with the continued advances in DNA technology it is likely to be successful in the future.

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