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New Huntington's Disease Test Offers Advantages

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2013-02-14 07:04

Development of a new Huntington’s disease test has been reported by researchers in Salt Lake City. Here’s what the new test could mean for people who chose to undergo testing for this inherited neurodegenerative disorder.

What is Huntington’s disease?

Huntington’s disease is an inherited condition in which an individual’s nerve cells in the brain degenerate over time. This deterioration causes a progressive loss of motor skills and cognitive functions.

The disease usually first displays signs and symptoms among people in their 30s or 40s, but the disease can develop before age 20 or in older adults as well. Huntington’s disease is rare in young children. Although there are medications that can help manage symptoms of Huntington’s disease, there are no curative treatments, and the condition is ultimately fatal.

A diagnosis of Huntington’s disease is made based mainly on the results of a physical exam, neurological and psychiatric examinations, and consideration of a person’s family medical history. Brain imaging also may be used.

When physicians have patients whose symptoms strongly indicate Huntington’s disease, they often recommend a genetic test, which can detect whether individuals have a mutated Huntingin gene, which is responsible for the disease.

A mutated Huntingtin gene causes an abnormal number of repeated sequences to occur involving three nucleotides or bases: cytosine, adenine, and guanine, or CAG. The greater the number of CAG repeats, the greater a person’s risk of having or developing symptoms of the disease. Therefore, it is critical to have an accurate assessment of the number of repeated sequences.

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