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Is my husband developing symptoms?

October 26, 2013

Huntington's Disease Youth Organization

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Is my husband developing symptoms?

Q. My husband is 30 years old and has a history of HD in his family. His father is developing the disease, with strong involuntary movements and depression… he is being followed by professionals… but the depression is really pronounced. But my doubts are about my husband’s behaviour… he is more agressive than usual… almost anything can start a huge fight. How can I look at this behaviour, meaning, is it possible that he is starting to develop symptoms?

Ana, young adult, Brazil

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A. Dear Ana,

Thanks for your question and sorry about the delay in replying. I have been on holidays in South America after the HD World Congress in your amazing country.

Your husband is at 50% risk of inheriting the HD gene from his father. If he has inherited the gene then he could get symptoms of HD at any age, although the typical age of onset is in the late 30s to early 50s.

Your husband’s increasing aggression, even with minimal triggers, is seen in lots of different situations. That is, it is not specific for any 1 medical condition or life situation. HD is a potential cause, but there are lots of other causes (e.g. alcohol abuse, depression & anxiety not due to HD, etc).

For example, I have recently seen a young man at 50% risk of HD who was very aggressive towards his family, but who no other features of symptomatic HD. He underwent predictive testing and was found to be gene positive, but I advised him that I wasn’t convinced that he had symptomatic HD. We met several times after this and he worked through some serious personal problems unrelated to HD in his family. He became much less stressed even though he was gene positive. His aggression has gone away completely and his family life is now very good. We catch up every few months for a talk and he gets a regular check up. He remains physically and mentally well.

I think his case indicates how important it is to look very carefully on an individual basis at every person at risk of HD when they get possible symptoms of HD. The gene test is a very important & dramatic test, but it doesn’t give any information about whether or not someone has symptoms of HD. That requires a careful assessment by a doctor.

My advice is that your husband would benefit by seeing a medical professional who understands HD and who is able to make what is often a very difficult judgement as to whether someone in his situation has HD or another diagnosis.

If, sadly, HD is the cause of his aggression then there are now very effective treatments for this symptom. That is, getting access to treatment will potentially improve his and your quality of life.

Andrew