Learning that you have Huntington’s disease can be worrisome because it affects many physical, emotional and cognitive (thinking) abilities. At the Henry Ford Health, our experienced specialists tailor your care to help you regain the best possible health.
What is Huntington’s disease?
Huntington’s disease is an inherited disorder that causes neurons (nerve cells) in certain areas of the brain to break down. The disorder affects your physical, cognitive (thinking) and emotional abilities, often causing uncontrollable movements and abnormal body positions.
Although Huntington’s disease can develop at any age, people usually begin to experience symptoms in their 30s and 40s. The disorder worsens over time, but treatments can help you manage symptoms and cope with changes to your daily life.
Huntington’s disease symptoms
The signs and symptoms of Huntington’s disease vary from person to person and can range from mild to severe. In its early stages, Huntington’s disease can cause symptoms such as:
- Depression, irritability and mood swings
- Difficulty making decisions or solving problems
- Difficulty learning new information
- Inability to focus or multitask
- Memory loss
Signs and symptoms that develop as the disease progresses include:
- Changes in personality and judgment
- Difficulty swallowing, speaking and walking
- Disorientation or confusion
- Hallucinations, paranoia and psychosis (severe mental impairment)
- Muscle contractions or spasms (dystonia) that can be painful
- Sudden, involuntary, jerking movements
Huntington’s disease causes
The cause of Huntington’s disease is a mutation (change) in a single gene that’s passed down in families.
Huntington’s disease care at Henry Ford: Why choose us?
Your care team is dedicated to managing complex conditions such as Huntington’s disease. Highlights of our program include:
- Expert team: Our neurologists have advanced fellowship training in treating Huntington’s disease. They work with rehabilitation therapists, nurse practitioners, social workers and others to design a treatment plan for you. We offer a monthly clinic so you can see the entire team in one visit. Meet our movement disorders team.
- National recognition: Our center was named as a Huntington’s Disease Society of America (HDSA) Center of Excellence. That means you receive care from a team nationally recognized for its expertise. They work together to offer a personalized treatment plan to help you have a good quality of life.
Huntington’s disease evaluation
Our neurologists begin by asking you about your symptoms and personal and family medical history. We do a thorough evaluation, including a physical and a neurologic exam to evaluate muscle movements, sensations and mental status.
The evaluation helps us decide what other tests you may need, such as:
- Genetic testing: If someone in your family had Huntington’s disease, we refer you to our genetic counselors. These specialists provide testing to look for the genetic mutation and help you understand the likelihood of developing the disorder or passing it on to your children.
- Imaging studies: Brain imaging, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT), can assess changes in the brain. The scans can show brain cell damage that may confirm a diagnosis of Huntington’s disease or rule out other conditions.
- Psychiatric evaluation: Our psychiatrists work with you to understand your emotional state, signs of disordered thinking and quality of judgment.
Find out more about our process for movement disorder evaluation and treatment options.
Huntington’s disease treatment
Depending on the symptoms you’re experiencing, you may need more than one type of treatment. Our neurology team offers treatments such as:
- Medications: A variety of medications can reduce involuntary movements and relieve psychological symptoms such as depression or psychosis.
- Botox® injections: We can inject botulinum toxin, or Botox, into areas with dystonia or other abnormal movement to help the muscles relax. Learn more about Botox for neuromuscular disorders.
- Behavioral therapy: We offer psychotherapy, also called talk therapy or counseling, with a psychologist, psychiatrist or licensed clinical social worker. Therapy can help with behavioral symptoms ranging from mood disorders and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) to hallucinations and psychosis. With counseling, you can also build coping strategies and improve communication with loved ones.
- Rehabilitation therapies: Our physical therapists teach you exercises to improve muscle control, strength and mobility. Our occupational therapists show you how to use assistive devices such as wheelchairs and specialized utensils for eating and drinking. Our speech-language pathologists provide exercises and techniques to improve your ability to speak and swallow. Read about our neurological rehabilitation.
- Integrative medicine therapies: Acupuncture, chiropractic care, massage, tai chi, yoga and other therapies can help you manage stress and relax your muscles. Find out what we offer at the Center for Integrative Medicine.
Learn more about our nonsurgical therapies for movement disorders.