Huntington’s disease (HD) is a fatal genetic disorder that causes the progressive breakdown of nerve cells in the brain. It deteriorates a person’s physical and mental abilities during their prime working years and has no cure. HD is known as the quintessential family disease because every child of a parent with HD has a 50/50 chance of carrying the faulty gene. Today, there are approximately 30,000 symptomatic Americans and more than 200,000 at-risk of inheriting the disease.
Experts estimate that one in every 10,000 persons—nearly 30,000 in the United States—have Huntington’s disease. Swallowing is a problem, so choking on food and drink is a potential hazard.
Swallowing problems (dysphagia) are common among people with HD. Statistics have repeatedly shown that the number one cause of death among persons with HD is aspiration pneumonia (food or liquid enters the airway, rather than the esophagus, during eating or drinking and then forms a collection in the lung that can become pneumonia).
Difficulty with motor control in HD results in impulsivity while eating, difficulty controlling the rate of food or liquid intake, and lack of coordination between the swallowing process and breathing. Chorea (uncontrolled movements) of the oral or pharyngeal muscles (tongue, lips, throat, esophagus) can also occur.