Huntington's disease - Treatment 

Treating Huntington's disease 

There is no cure for Huntington's disease. Its progress cannot be reversed or slowed down, although this is the goal of a number of research projects.

However, some symptoms can be managed with medication and therapies, which may be co-ordinated 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 extremely important: people who keep active tend to feel much better physically and mentally than those who do not exercise. Co-ordination may be poor, but walking independently with the use of walking aids, if necessary, can make all the difference.

See Living with Huntington's disease for information on 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, are described below.

Most of these drugs have side effects such as fatigue, restlessness and hyperexcitability. It may be hard to tell if these are symptoms of the disease or a result of the medication.

Antidepressants to treat depression

Antidepressants should be considered as they can improve mood swings and treat depression. They include:

Antidepressants may cause constipation, sweating, shaking or trembling, as well as difficulty sleeping. Read more information about antidepressants.

Mood stabilisers to treat irritability or mood swings

Mood stabilisers, particularly carbamazepine, may be considered as a treatment for irritability. 

The dose of carbamazepine needs to be slowly increased and any side effects monitored.

Carbamazepine cannot be used during pregnancy.

Medication to suppress involuntary movements

The medicines listed below suppress the involuntary movements – or chorea – seen in Huntington's disease. In the UK, antipsychotic drugs are usually preferred.

Antipsychotic drugs may also help to control delusions (believing things that are untrue), hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that are unreal) and violent outbursts. But they may have severe side effects, such as:

  • stiffness and rigidity
  • sedation
  • tremor (shaking)
  • slowness of movement 

Because of these side effects, the lowest possible dose of antipsychotics will be prescribed.

Page last reviewed: 23/10/2012

Next review due: 23/10/2014

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Helpline

If you would like to talk to someone about the disease, the Huntington's Disease Association has a team of advisers who can help. Call 0151 331 5444.

There are branches and support groups across England and Wales.