There's no cure for Huntington's disease. Its progress can't be reversed or slowed down, although this is the goal of many research projects.
Some of the features of Huntington's disease can be managed with medication and therapies, which may be coordinated by specialist teams.
Therapies, such as speech and language therapy and occupational therapy, can help with communication and day-to-day living.
Regular exercise is also very important. People who are active tend to feel much better physically and mentally than those who don't exercise. Someone with Huntington's disease may have poor coordination, but walking independently, with the use of walking aids if necessary, can make all the difference.
Read more about managing lifestyle issues, such as feeding and communication.
Medication for Huntington's disease
Medicines for Huntington's disease, which can be taken in liquid form in many cases if needed, are described below.
Most of these medications have side effects, such as extreme tiredness. However, it may sometimes be difficult to tell whether these are symptoms of the condition or a result of the medication.
Antidepressants to treat depression
Antidepressants can help improve mood swings and treat depression. They include:
- SSRI antidepressants – such as fluoxetine, citalopram and paroxetine
- tricyclic antidepressants – such as amitriptyline
- other types of antidepressants – including mirtazapine, duloxetine and venlafaxine
Side effects of antidepressants may include:
Mood stabilisers to treat irritability or mood swings
Mood stabilisers, particularly carbamazepine, may be considered as a treatment for irritability. Olanzapine can also help, along with sodium valproate and lamotrigine.
The dose of carbamazepine needs to be slowly increased and any side effects monitored. Carbamazepine can't be used during pregnancy.
Medication to suppress involuntary movements
The medications listed below suppress the involuntary movements – or chorea – seen in Huntington's disease. In the UK, antipsychotic medicines are usually preferred.
- antipsychotic medication – such as olanzapine, sulpiride, risperidone and quetiapine
- tetrabenazine – reduces the amount of dopamine reaching some of the nerve cells in the brain
- benzodiazepines – such as clonazepam and diazepam
Antipsychotic medication may also help control delusions and violent outbursts. However, they may have severe side effects, such as:
- stiffness and rigidity
- tremor (shaking)
- moving slowly
Due to the possibility of experiencing these side effects, the lowest possible dose of antipsychotics are normally prescribed in the first instance.
Help and support
If you want to talk to someone about Huntington's disease, the Huntington's Disease Association has a team of advisers who can help. You can call their helpline on 0151 331 5444, or their email address is email@example.com.