She has JHD Juvenile Huntington Disease
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What Is Juvenile Onset Huntington’s Disease (JHD)?
Juvenile Onset Huntington’s Disease (JHD) is a form of Huntington’s disease (HD) that affects children and teenagers. Huntington’s disease is a hereditary neurodegenerative disorder that is characterized by progressively worsening motor, cognitive, behavioral, and psychiatric symptoms. JHD is caused by a mutation of the huntingtin gene called a “CAG repeat expansion”. The mutation results in gradual neuronal degeneration in the basal ganglia of the brain, which is responsible for coordination of movements, thoughts, and emotions. As JHD progresses, other regions of the brain undergo neuronal degeneration with diffuse and severe brain atrophy that is comparable to late stage Alzheimer’s disease.
Presentation of JHD includes changes in personality, coordination, behavior, speech or ability to learn. Physical changes include rigidity, leg stiffness, clumsiness, slowness of movement, tremors or myoclonus. In comparison with adult HD, seizures and rigidity are common, and chorea is uncommon.
Predisposition and typical initial symptoms of Juvenile Onset HD include:
Positive family history of HD, usually in the father
Stiffness of the legs
Clumsiness of arms and legs
Decline in cognitive function
Changes in behavior
Changes in oral motor function
Chorea in an adolescent
Onset and Progression
JHD usually has a more rapid progression rate than adult onset HD; the earlier the onset, the faster JHD progresses. Death often occurs within 10 years of JHD onset, as opposed to 10-25 years in adult onset HD.
There is no cure or treatment to stop, slow or reverse the progression of JHD. Medications may be prescribed to manage symptoms. A child psychiatrist or behavior management specialist may address behavior disorders. A speech language pathologist may evaluate communication and swallowing problems. A nutritionist may be consulted to address nutritional needs as the disease progresses. Assistive devices such as wheelchairs, helmets, and communication boards may be used for safety, and to improve quality of life.