Scientists have yet to develop a cure for Huntington’s disease or a treatment that can stop its progression. But there are treatments that can help patients manage their symptoms, which include movement, cognitive, and psychiatric problems.

And researchers continue to work on more effective treatments for the disease.

Treatment for movement problems

The hallmark of Huntington’s is muscle problems. They include muscle contractions, problems with voluntary movements such as walking and speech, and jerky involuntary movements known collectively as chorea, the most notable symptom of the disease.

Xenazine (tetrabenazine) is the first medication the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved specifically for Huntington’s. It helps suppress jerky involuntary movements, but it may cause serious side effects, such as worsening depression.

Antipsychotic medications such as Risperdal (risperidone), Haldol (haloperidol) and chlorpromazine are often used off-label to treat Huntington’s because they suppress chorea. An off-label therapy is one that helps patients with conditions the drug has not been approved for. Although it is legal, pharmaceutical companies may not market a medication for an off-label use.

In addition to suppressing chorea, antipsychotic medications can help manage psychiatric symptoms associated with Huntington’s, including agitation and psychosis. Side effects of antipsychotics include drowsiness and dry mouth. Haldol and chlorpromazine may also worsen involuntary muscle contractions and rigidity.

Benzodiazepines can also reduce chorea. They include Klonopin (clonazepam) and Valium (diazepam). Some of these medications can worsen the cognitive symptoms of Huntington’s, however, and may carry a high risk of a patient becoming dependent on them and abusing them.

Treatment for psychiatric problems

The neurological damage associated with Huntington’s can also cause such psychiatric symptoms as depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, mania, and bipolar disorder.

Anti-depressants, mainly selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors like Lexapro, Prozac, and Zoloft, are frequently used to treat Huntington’s patients’ depression. They can also alleviate some symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Doctors use anti-psychotic medications such as Seroquel (quetiapine) and Risperdal (risperidone) to treat mood disorders, including violent outbursts or delusions.

Mood stabilizing medications can prevent the extreme highs and lows that characterize bipolar disorder. They include Carbatrol (carbamazepine), Depacon (valproate), and Lamictal (lamotrigine.)

Other therapies

Forms of therapy besides medications can alleviate Huntington’s symptoms and help patients cope.

Physical therapy helps maintain mobility and reduce falls.

Huntington’s can impair muscles in the mouth and throat, so speech and swallowing become difficult as the disease progresses. When this happens, speech therapy can help.

Psychotherapy can help patients and their families develop coping strategies for dealing with the disease and its progression. Occupational therapy can help patients learn to use devices that assist them in performing everyday tasks like dressing and eating.

Support

Huntington’s disease is challenging, and patients and caregivers need support. Non-profit groups like the Huntington’s Disease Society of America, Huntington’s Society Canada, and the Huntington’s Disease Association in the United Kingdom are a good resource. They can identify social services available to patients and their families, and help them find support groups.

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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.