Is there a link between Huntington’s disease and liver function?

Early research indicates there may be, but I'd like to see more studies

Becky Field avatar

by Becky Field |

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Huntington’s disease, a neurodegenerative disorder, has affected several generations of my family. So far, it’s taken the lives of my dad, grandad, and great-grandmother. I tested negative for Huntington’s disease in the summer of 2023.

In the early stages of my dad’s disease, my friends and I noticed that his skin and the white parts of his eyes (the sclera) looked yellow. But Dad never had the blood tests that might’ve revealed changes in his liver function because of his fear of needles since childhood, which made him anxious about doctor visits.

As a result, he had trouble breathing as his Huntington’s progressed, and he didn’t sleep particularly well, either. He suffered from cold hands and feet, poor circulation, digestive system issues, and an inability to control his body temperature.

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Shrunken livers

Other family members have also experienced both liver disease and Huntington’s. Some symptoms of liver disease I’ve seen include tummy pain, a swollen tummy, and swollen feet and ankles.

It’s thought that Huntington’s disease can cause other changes in the body that aren’t limited to the brain. Along those lines, studies also seem to indicate that Huntington’s can alter liver function, sometimes even before the onset of Huntington’s symptoms. To complicate things, though, others studies suggest that certain medications might also play a role.

In post-mortem examinations of Huntington’s patients, doctors noted that their livers were noticeably shrunken. Cells in the liver regenerate when they’re damaged, but in Huntington’s patients, this regeneration appeared to be happening more frequently, suggesting a greater degree of damage.

Normal liver function is also important for regulating metabolism, which provides energy to our body for breathing, blood circulation, digestion, growing and repairing cells, maintaining hormone levels, and regulating body temperature, among other functions.

While most types of liver disease don’t show symptoms in the early stages, there can be more damage and scarring later. Those effects on the liver can cause symptoms such as feeling tired and weak, feeling sick, feeling itchy, losing appetite, losing sex drive, and seeing the skin and whites of the eyes go yellow.

Liver changes in Huntington’s patients are thought to be subtle. Having the disease doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll develop liver problems. Yet more research is needed in this area to develop a better understanding of these changes and why they’re occurring. Hopefully, researchers will continue their efforts to determine exactly what role Huntington’s disease might play in a patient’s liver function.

Note: Huntington’s Disease News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Huntington’s Disease News or its parent company, Bionews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Huntington’s disease.


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