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Rise in Huntington’s Disease In Scotland

Recently there has been news about a dramatic 55% increase in people suffering from Huntington’s disease in the last year.

The figures, which relate to Scotland only, are incredibly alarming but what do they mean?

Huntington’s disease is an inherited condition that affects certain nerve cells in the brain. It is normally an inherited faulty gene. Early symptoms can include personality changes, mood swings, and fidgety movements. The brain damage gets progressively worse over time, severely affecting movement and mental abilities.

Adult-onset HD often begins in middle age and at the moment there is no cure.

According to the NHS, latest research for the UK as a whole has shown that around 12 people in every 100,000 are affected. These latest figures, from the Scottish Huntington’s Association, are out of kilter with what has been reported earlier and show that cases have risen from 709 to 1,103 in just a year. The Association says the figures are “alarming” and as yet no specific reason has been put forward.

The Chief Executive of the Association, John Eden, is now calling for national action. “This puts a fantastic strain on the limited resources we have for supporting Huntington’s disease families,” he said.

Interestingly, for those who develop Huntington’s Disease after the age of 55, diagnosis can be very difficult as the symptoms can be masked by other health problems or the person may develop symptoms more slowly that those who develop the disease at a younger age.

There is also a similar related disorder called senile chorea. Here older people display the symptoms of Huntington’s Disease, especially jerky movements, but they do not lose their cognitivie reasoning in the same way. Some scientists believe this is caused by a different gene mutation, but there is a lot of work still to be done.

Early diagnosis is not easy – anyone involved in Huntington’s will probably know the story of famous American singer and composer Woody Guthrie who suffered from the disease for 13 years without proper diagnosis. He shuttled out of mental institutions and hospitals for years before he died.

To diagnose Huntington’s, the doctor will examine many areas. He or she may well ask about recent intellectual or emotional problems and may test a person’s hearing, eye movements, strength, co-ordination, reflexes, balance and mental status. People with Huntington’s commonly have problems with the way the eye follows or fixes on a moving target.

Laboratory tests may also be asked for; using a blood sample a genetic test can analyse the DNA for the Huntington’s Disease mutation.

If you have any concerns about your health, or that of a relation, re symptoms that could apply to Huntington’s disease, don’t be put off seeking help just because there is no cure at the moment. Early diagnosis can help in many ways, including planning for the future.

The Huntington’s Disease Association, based in Liverpool, has a lot of new information covering the latest research and also advice and help for sufferers and their carers.

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