Huntington's Disease is an inherited, progressively degenerative neurological disorder that results in the loss of both mental capability and physical control. The ability to think, to speak, and to walk is greatly diminished as the disease progresses. HD is named after Dr. George Huntington, an American physician, who was first to publish a precise description of the symptoms and a course of the disease in an article dated in 1872.
HD was once thought to affect about one person in 20,000 but current estimates are closer to one in 10,000 people. As with other diseases of this sort, HD afflicts not only the affected person, but everyone in his or her family. HD is hereditary and each child of an affected parent has a 50-50 chance of inheriting the HD gene. This disease strikes individuals in the prime of their lives. The average onset of the disease is between the ages of 30-50 and the duration of the illness is approximately 10-25 years. Children as young as 2 and adults as old as 80 have developed HD.
In the early stages, perhaps even prior to diagnosis, there are some intellectual, motor, and emotional impairment. With the progression of the disease, the weakened individual succumbs to pneumonia, heart failure or other complications ultimately resulting in death.
The Huntington's Disease gene was discovered in the spring of 1993. This dramatic discovery has simplified the testing process, made it much more financially realistic and increased the accuracy of the diagnostic process. The cause of dying brain cells was discovered in the fall of 1997. This exciting breakthrough has enabled drug trials to begin and given renewed hope of finding a way to possibly slow the progression or prevent the onset of HD.