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Huntington’s Disease

Huntington’s disease (also referred to as Huntington’s chorea) is an inherited disease that causes certain nerve cells in the brain to degenerate or waste away.

This degeneration causes uncontrolled movements, loss of mental capacities and emotional disturbance.

People are born with the defective gene, but symptoms typically don’t appear until age 30 or older. Rarely, Huntington’s disease can begin in childhood.  

Huntington’s disease symptoms

Early Huntington’s disease symptoms may include the following:

  • Mood swings
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Uncontrolled movements
  • Balance problems

Over time, the disease takes away your ability to walk, talk and swallow.

How can I get help for Huntington’s disease?

If you notice any of the above symptoms, talk to your primary care doctor. If your doctor suspects you have Huntington's disease, he or she will refer you to a movement disorders specialist.

The disease is passed from parent to child through a mutation in the normal gene, so if one of your parents has Huntington’s disease, you have a 50 percent chance of getting it. A blood test can tell you if you have the mutated gene and if you will develop the disease.

Care for Huntington’s disease at Rush

There is no cure for Huntington’s disease. Your care team at Rush will focus on relieving your symptoms and helping you cope with the emotional challenges of living with Huntington’s. Neurologists at Rush work closely with neuropsychologists, psychiatrists, nurses, social workers, therapists and other staff to tailor treatment to your specific needs.

Medicines can help manage some of the symptoms of Huntington’s disease, such as the emotional and movement problems; however, they can’t slow the disease’s progression or stop it. Most of the drugs used to treat the disease’s symptoms have side effects, including fatigue, restlessness or hyperexcitability. Your doctors can help address any side effects you may experience.

It’s also important for people with Huntington's to exercise and stay active because they tend to do better than those who don’t.

Why choose Rush for Huntington’s disease care

  • The Huntington’s Disease Society of America has designated the Huntington’s disease center at Rush a “Center of Excellence” for the care and study of Huntington’s disease.
  • The neurology and neurosurgery programs at Rush are consistently ranked among the best in the nation by U.S. News & World Report.
  • Rush is part of the Huntington Study Group, a group of clinical investigators in Huntington’s disease. This group has an international database that aims to increase awareness of the disease’s clinical features, including the rate of its progression.
  • Movement disorders specialists at Rush involved in studies of new therapies for Huntington’s disease so patients have access to the latest treatments before they are widely available. Currently, the Department of Neurological Sciences at Rush is participating in studies looking at the effects of coenzyme Q10 and creatine on the progression of functional decline in Huntington’s disease, as well as the long-term safety and tolerability of the study dosage. 

Departments and programs that treat this condition