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Huntington disease

Alternative Names
Huntington chorea

Huntington disease is an inherited brain disease that affects movement, thinking, and personality.

What is going on in the body?
Huntington disease causes cells in certain areas of the brain to slowly destruct. It usually starts in middle adulthood.

What are the signs and symptoms of the disease?
Huntington disease may cause:
  • clumsiness
  • chorea, which refers to fidgety, random, or involuntary movements
  • an unusual style of walking, which is often unsteady
  • difficulty speaking
  • difficulty swallowing
  • personality changes and withdrawal from social activities
  • paranoia, hallucinations, psychosis, or depression
  • memory loss
  • poor decision making
What are the causes and risks of the disease?
Huntington disease is a genetic disorder. It is an autosomal dominant disorder that can be passed from affected people to their children.

What can be done to prevent the disease?
Nothing can be done to prevent Huntington disease in a person who has already been born. Genetic testing can determine whether someone has the gene that causes Huntington disease. Genetic counselling may be useful for a person with a family history of Huntington disease.

How is the disease diagnosed?
Diagnosis is made on the basis of the symptoms, and a physical examination. The diagnosis can be confirmed with a DNA test. Early testing of a foetus through amniocentesis can tell whether an unborn child will have the disease.

What are the long-term effects of the disease?
Huntington disease gradually gets worse over time. Affected people may be unable to take care of themselves and may need to put in an institution. Death occurs in most affected people about 10 to 20 years after the disease is diagnosed.

What are the risks to others?
Huntington disease is not contagious. It is an autosomal dominant disorder that can be passed from affected people to their children. Autosomal dominant diseases require only one bad gene from one parent to pass on the disease to a child. With autosomal dominant conditions, the parent who passes on the bad gene also has the disease. Because the disease develops in middle adulthood, an individual may have children before he or she is diagnosed with the disease.

What are the treatments for the disease?
There is no cure and there are no treatments that slow the progression of Huntington disease. Medication may be used to treat psychosis, depression, or movement problems.

What are the side effects of the treatments?
The medications used for Huntington disease may cause fatigue, stomach upset, and new movement problems.

What happens after treatment for the disease?
The disease continues to progress and the person gets worse over time.

How is the disease monitored?
Symptoms are monitored by reports and physical examinations to determine the need for medications. Any new or worsening symptoms should be reported to the doctor.

Author: Adam Brochert, MD
Reviewer: HealthAnswers Australia Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr David Taylor, Chief Medical Officer HealthAnswers Australia
Last Updated: 1/10/2001
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

This website and article is not a substitute for independent professional advice. Nothing contained in this website is intended to be used as medical advice and it is not intended to be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes or as a substitute for your own health professional's advice.  All Health and any associated parties do not accept any liability for any injury, loss or damage incurred by use of or reliance on the information.


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