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Cardiac Dysautonomia in Huntington's Disease


Huntington's disease is a fatal, hereditary, neurodegenerative disorder best known for its clinical triad of progressive motor impairment, cognitive deficits and psychiatric disturbances. Although a disease of the central nervous system, mortality surveys indicate that heart disease is a leading cause of death. The nature of such cardiac abnormalities remains unknown. Clinical findings indicate a high prevalence of autonomic nervous system dysfunction – dysautonomia – which may be a result of pathology of the central autonomic network. Dysautonomia can have profound effects on cardiac health, and pronounced autonomic dysfunction can be associated with neurogenic arrhythmias and sudden cardiac death. Significant advances in the knowledge of neural mechanisms in cardiac disease have recently been made which further aid our understanding of cardiac mortality in Huntington's disease. Even so, despite the evidence of aberrant autonomic activity the potential cardiac consequences of autonomic dysfunction have been somewhat ignored. In fact, underlying cardiac abnormalities such as arrhythmias have been part of the exclusion criteria in clinical autonomic Huntington's disease research. A comprehensive analysis of cardiac function in Huntington's disease patients is warranted. Further experimental and clinical studies are needed to clarify how the autonomic nervous system is controlled and regulated in higher, central areas of the brain – and how these regions may be altered in neurological pathology, such as Huntington's disease. Ultimately, research will hopefully result in an improvement of management with the aim of preventing early death in Huntington's disease from cardiac causes.