Symptoms of Huntington's Disease

Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

Symptoms of Huntington’s disease involve motor and cognitive skills. After they begin, the effects gradually worsen. Sometimes, early on, the symptoms of Huntington’s disease can be similar to those of other types of dementia or movement disorders.

Living with Huntington’s disease is difficult for the person who has the condition, as well as their family and loved ones. Over time, the cognitive impairment can cause you to become more dependent on others and lose awareness of your disease, and your own distress about your condition may decrease as your awareness of your condition declines.

Huntington’s disease is fatal, usually resulting in death due to complications within 20 years after diagnosis. 

Huntington's disease begins with thinking problems

Hinterhaus Productions / Getty Images

Frequent Symptoms 

You might be on the lookout for symptoms of Huntington’s disease if you know that you are at risk. Or the symptoms could be unexpected if you are unaware of your disease risk.

The most frequent symptoms of Huntington’s disease are associated with cognitive functioning (thinking skills), involuntary movements, impaired coordination, and loss of motor control.

The noticeable effects of the condition typically begin between age 30 to 50, followed by a progressive decline in function. 

Common symptoms of Huntington’s disease include: 

  • Trouble thinking and problem solving 
  • Mood changes 
  • Hallucinations 
  • Coordination problems 
  • Behavioral and personality changes 
  • Chorea: Involuntary movements of the body, often characterized by smooth and flowing muscle movements
  • Difficulty with balance 
  • Speech problems 
  • Trouble swallowing 
  • Impaired walking

Dementia, depression, and anxiety are common diagnoses that occur as co-morbid conditions along with Huntington's disease.

Less Common Symptoms 

Some of the effects of Huntington’s disease are not necessarily prominent in everyone who has the condition. Often, some symptoms can be subtle, or they might not be as noticeable as the more disruptive effects of the condition. 

Less common symptoms of Huntington’s disease include:

  • Fidgeting 
  • Clumsiness 
  • Restlessness
  • Muscle twitches
  • Muscle atrophy 
  • Impulsive or risky behavior  

If you know that you are at risk of developing Huntington’s disease due to your family history, or if you have tested positive for the genetic mutation, you should seek medical attention for any symptom that’s associated with the condition.

Your symptoms could be caused by something other than Huntington’s disease and/or they might be signs that your Huntington’s disease is worsening. You may benefit from medical attention and treatment.

Complications/Sub-Group Indications

Complications can be a significant issue with Huntington’s disease. The dementia and movement impairments lead to issues like malnutrition, physical injuries, and infections. Typically, the movement problems and the cognitive and behavioral problems worsen together—increasing the likelihood of complications. 

Complications of Huntington’s disease include:

  • Nutritional deficits: With Huntington’s disease, you might lose interest in eating, and it can also be more difficult to safely chew and swallow food. You can eventually become deficient in vitamins and minerals and you can also lose weight. These problems also affect your overall health, resulting in lower immunity and problems with healing. 
  • Injuries: With physical imbalance, decreased muscle control, and dementia, the likelihood of falls and other types injuries can be high.
  • Pressure sores: Lack of mobility can lead to pressure sores on the body, which can also become infected.
  • Pneumonia: Difficulty swallowing and decreased mobility can increase the risk of pneumonia, including aspiration pneumonia.
  • Infections: Infections can develop as a result of the overall decline in health and as a result of diminished self-care.
  • Muscle stiffness: You can develop muscle spasms or rigidity due to Huntington's disease, and these effects can also occur as a side effect of some of the treatments that are used to manage the psychiatric effects of this disorder.

Juvenile Huntington's Disease

Juvenile Huntington’s disease is less common than the usual adult form of the condition. This form begins during the childhood or teenage years and can cause a decline in mobility and learning skills that had already been developing normally.

Young onset Huntington’s disease is characterized similar symptoms as those of the adult-onset form of the disease, with the exception of chorea.

In addition, seizures, which are not common in the adult form, affect about half of those diagnosed with juvenile Huntington’s disease. This condition often worsens more rapidly, and it can be fatal within about 10 to 15 years after the onset of symptoms.

When to See a Doctor/Go to the Hospital 

Whether you are at risk of developing Huntington’s disease or have already been diagnosed with the condition, you will need to seek medical attention before and after you start to have symptoms. There are several disease stages that warrant medical attention.

Risk Assessment 

If you have a chance of developing Huntington’s disease due to a known family history of the condition, you may want to discuss your risk with your doctor and with your family. 

You might decide to consider genetic testing, along with genetic counseling. If you decide to proceed with a genetic test, you would be on the lookout for symptoms if you test positive. If you test negative, then you can rest assured that you won’t develop the condition.

If you opt against genetic testing, you will only learn whether or not you have the disease based on your symptoms (or lifelong lack of symptoms). However, you can decide to have the genetic test at any point later in your life.

Diagnosis 

If you develop mood changes, cognitive problems, coordination impairment, or involuntary movements, you should see your doctor. 

These issues could be caused by Huntington’s disease or by another neurological or psychiatric condition. And you will need a medical evaluation to identify the cause of your symptoms and to help determine the best treatment plan. 

Symptom Management 

If you are diagnosed with Huntington’s disease, you will need intervention for management of your symptoms when they develop, and as they worsen. As you develop issues such as trouble waking, for example, you may need interventions like physical therapy or a use of a walker. 

Emergency Care 

With Huntington’s disease, you can have a medical emergency, especially as the condition worsens. Be sure to get prompt attention if you (or someone who you are trying care of) experience any of the following:

  • A fall or an injury
  • Fever
  • Severe pain or swelling of any part of the body 
  • Psychosis 
  • Seizures 

You may experience these symptoms due to deterioration of your Huntington’s disease or due to another issue, such as an infection. Acute treatment or reevaluation of your treatment plan may be necessary. 

A Word From Verywell

The effects of Huntington’s disease can cause a variety of symptoms, some of which are directly caused by the disease, and some of which are complications of the condition.

As you pay attention to your early symptoms, and then as you experience disease progression, it is important that you and those who are taking care of you remain observant of your new or worsening symptoms and that you get medical attention whenever you need it. 

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Ishihara L, Oliveri D, Wild EJ. Neuropsychiatric comorbidities in Huntington's and Parkinson's Disease: A United States claims database analysis. Ann Clin Transl Neurol. 2020 Nov 20. doi:10.1002/acn3.51252

  2. Bozzi M, Sciandra F. Molecular mechanisms underlying muscle wasting in Huntington's disease. Int J Mol Sci. 2020 Nov 5;21(21):8314. doi:10.3390/ijms21218314

  3. McDonell K, Ciriegio AE, Pfalzer AC, Hale L, Shiino S, Riordan H, Moroz S, Darby R, Compas BE, Claassen DO. Risk-taking behaviors in Huntington's disease. J Huntingtons Dis. 2020 Nov 6. doi:10.3233/JHD-200431