More people in the UK suffer from Huntington’s disease (HD) than is assumed, according to medical experts.
The chairman of the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) said new figures showed the incurable brain illness was at least twice as common as previously thought.
Writing in The Lancet, Sir Michael Rawlins said previous figures had seriously underestimated the prevalence of the disease.
He said: “Stigma (of having HD) has had a deleterious effect on studies that have sought to investigate its epidemiology and… the true prevalence is unquestionably greater than this.”
HD is a hereditary disorder which affects muscle co-ordination and cognitive functions.
It usually first shows itself in middle age and in time leaves its sufferers needing full-time nursing care before they die.
Every child of someone with HD has a 50% chance of inheriting the disease.
About 6,000 people are believed to have the disease in the UK.