A fatal genetic disorder, Huntington's disease (HD), also called Huntington chorea and Huntington’s disease causes the nerve cells in the brain to progressively break down and die. HD affects the caudate, the putamen, and ultimately, the cerebral cortex.
As the brain cells in these areas die, patients suffering from HD are less able to control their emotions and movements, and they have more difficulty making decisions and remembering recent events.
If you’ve been diagnosed with HD, obtaining disability benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA) may be easier than for other conditions. The SSA categories HD as a neurological disorder in section 11.17 in its Listing of Impairments, and includes HD in its Compassionate Allowance Program that expedites terminal illnesses. However, Social Security often fails to recognize the severity of the symptoms and initially denies individuals.
However, it’s still helpful to hire an experienced Social Security disability attorney to help you file your claim or appeal.
Frequently Asked Questions
If you’ve been diagnosed with HD, it’s likely that you have many questions about how this condition will affect your life and what you can do to manage it. Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about HD.
What kind of symptoms will I have if I’m diagnosed with HD?
Each person with the disease experiences symptoms differently. However, doctors find the earlier the symptoms appear in a patient, the more quickly the disease will progress. In the early phase of HD, friends and family members may first see mood swings, irritability, apathy, depression, or anger in an individual suffering from the condition. It’s possible these symptoms will continue, but some patients see them decrease with the progression of the disease. Additionally, a patient may experience trouble driving, answering questions, making decisions, or learning something new.
For some people, the disease begins with uncontrolled movements in the face, fingers, trunk, or feet, which is a sign of chorea and can increase if the patient feels anxiety. Also, HD can start with a patient experiencing problems with balance and may display a level of clumsiness. With the progression of the disease, a patient may have trouble concentrating on intellectual tasks; may stumble or act uncoordinated; may have difficulty walking, and may be more likely to fall. Eventually, HD can cause slurred speech and the decline of important body functions such as speaking, eating, and swallowing.
Is there a test to determine if I have HD?
In the past, genetic testing was used to diagnose HD. However, in 1993, a blood test was developed to determine if people at risk for the disease or who have HD-like symptoms have the gene that causes HD. Because there is no treatment that can prevent the development of HD if the gene is present, many of those at risk for the disease choose not to have the blood test.
Other at-risk patients who want to plan ahead for their careers and families make the choice to be tested. Many doctors advise that a patient who considers taking the blood test undergo genetic counseling to ensure he understands the possible results and to discuss if taking the test is the right move.
What kind of treatment is available for HD?
While there is no cure for HD or a way to reverse the disease, there are a variety of medications that doctors use to help control the movement problems patients experience, as well as their emotional issues.
In 2008, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first U.S. drug to treat HD—tetrabenazine. Additionally, haloperidol—an antipsychotic drug—and other drugs such as clonazepam may be prescribed to help decrease choreic movements, hallucinations, and violent outbursts.
If a patient experiences depression, doctors may prescribe nortriptyline, fluoxetine, or sertraline. And tranquilizers can be used to help manage anxiety. But it’s important to note that many of these drugs used to treat HD symptoms have side effects that make it difficult to determine if a symptom is being caused by the disease or is a result of the medication.
We Can Help
If you have HD, it’s possible that you qualify for disability benefits from the SSA. If you were previously denied benefits for this disease, it’s important that you file an appeal.
Hiring an experienced Social Security disability attorney who can help you understand the process and work with you on your application is the best way to increase your chances of getting an approved claim. Phone Cuddigan Law at (402) 933-5405 or send us an email at [email protected] for a free evaluaiton or your case. We can work with you to get the disability support you need and deserve to address this debilitating disease.