Conditions & Treatments

Huntington’s disease

Huntington’s disease (HD) is a progressive, inherited, neurodegenerative disease that affects muscle coordination and results in movement, cognitive and psychiatric disorders.

What is Huntington’s disease?

Huntington’s disease (HD) is a progressive, inherited, neurodegenerative disease that results in neurologic and psychiatric decline over 15–20 years. Over the course of the disease there are progressively worsening difficulties with controlling movements of all kinds, with thinking and with emotional balance.

Patients benefit from increasing care and supervision and eventually require 24-hour care in the final phases of the disease. Although symptoms can start at any age, including childhood, individuals usually develop symptoms from their 30s to their 50s

What are the different types of Huntington’s disease?

Huntington’s disease is also sometimes known as Huntington’s chorea.

What are the risk factors for Huntington’s disease?

If a parent has Huntington’s disease, each of their children has a 50% chance of inheriting it. Grandchildren have a 25% chance of inheriting the abnormal gene. A genetic test is available to determine whether the gene mutation is present.

What causes Huntington’s disease?

The HD gene is passed from parent to child through genes. As a result of a change in the gene’s structure, neurons in the brain gradually degenerate, causing the neurologic symptoms of HD.

What are the symptoms of Huntington’s disease?

Typical symptoms of HD are involuntary movements, loss of coordination, loss of intellectual faculties, emotional disturbances and weight loss.

How is Huntington’s disease diagnosed?

Huntington’s disease is an inherited disease, so family medical history plays an important role in diagnosis. In addition, patients may undergo:

  • Neurological tests
  • Genetic testing

Treatment for Huntington’s disease

Treatment for Huntington’s disease may include:

  • Medications to treat mood and behavior difficulties
  • Medications to relieve abnormal movements
  • Psychotherapy for emotional and behavioral issues
  • Genetic counseling and testing
  • Occupational and physical therapies to help control of voluntary movements and optimize physical function
  • Speech therapy for patients struggling with speech and swallowing issues
  • Nutrition consultation to help maintain optimal metabolism
  • Referral to support groups and other community resources
  • Inpatient hospitalization for acute medical or behavioral problems
  • On-site social work consultation for emotional support and referral to community resources
  • Assistance with transitions to long term care, when needed
  • Treatment with tetrabenazine for Huntington’s chorea (involuntary movements)
  • Participation in research studies

Treatment Programs

Massachusetts General Hospital understands that a variety of factors influence patients' health care decisions. That's just one reason why we're dedicated to ensuring patients understand their diagnosis and treatment options. Because a single option might not serve all patients, we offer a wide range of coordinated treatments and related services across the hospital. Patients should consult with their primary care doctor or other qualified health care provider for medical advice and diagnosis information.

Select a treatment program for more information:

Department of Neurology

  • Movement Disorders Unit
    Massachusetts General Hospital's Movement Disorders Unit sees patients from around the world for everything from the most common to the rarest of movement disorders.
  • Huntington’s Disease Unit at the Massachusetts General Hospital Movement Disorders Unit
    The Massachusetts General Hospital Huntington's Disease Unit—a component of the New England Huntington's Disease Society of America Centers of Excellence—cares for individuals with a genetic risk for developing HD and for those who have symptoms at any stage of the disease.

Ihn Sik Seong: The Long Search for the Full Story of Huntington’s Disease

Understanding the molecular pathogenesis of Huntington’s disease.

Neurology Bicentennial Celebration, 2011 Part I

Neurology Bicentennial Celebration, October 13, 2011. Past History of MGH Neurology; Overview of MGH Neurology; Telestroke and Acute Stroke Service; Neurodegenerative Disorders; Pediatric Neurology.

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