How Huntington's Disease Is Treated

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Huntington’s disease is not reversible, but some of the effects can be managed and controlled to improve the quality of life for those who have the disease and for their loved ones. Treatments can help manage involuntary muscle movements and psychosis.

It is never too soon to begin talking with your doctor about your treatment for Huntington’s disease. If you are diagnosed with the condition or if you know that you will develop it, you should start planning your treatment in advance. 

Physical Therapy Can be Beneficial in Huntington's Disease

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Home Remedies and Lifestyle 

You can reduce the effects of your condition with some at home strategies.  As your motor control and coordination decline, you can optimize your safety by doing things like avoiding stairs, using a walker, and having supportive handrails while you shower. 

As your cognitive skills decline, you might benefit from keeping a calendar, making sure you focus on one thing at a time, and maintaining a manageable to do list to keep yourself on track as you get things done. 

And, as your behavioral symptoms and mood changes emerge, keeping a familiar schedule and avoiding unexpected or sudden changes in your life can help reduce the impact of these symptoms on your day-to-day life. 

Prescriptions

There are a number of prescription therapies used to alleviate some of the symptoms of Huntington’s disease. These treatments do not reverse the disease itself or stop its progression.

You might need several different medications to manage each of the different symptoms, and sometimes one or more of your medications may exacerbate the effects of Huntington’s disease, so they have to be dosed carefully.

Chorea

Oral medications used to reduce chorea are taken daily or several times per day. 

Xenazine (tetrabenazine) and Austedo (deutetrabenazine) are both approved for reducing chorea in Huntington’s disease. These medications are believed to work by interaction with neurotransmitters in the brain. 

Sometimes amantadine, a medication that is approved for treatment of Parkinson’s disease, is used off label for the treatment of chorea.

Mood Changes 

Depression is the most common mood symptom associated with Huntington’s disease, although anxiety can occur as well. These symptoms can be treated with antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications, with careful monitoring of side effects and consideration of potential drug interactions.

Psychiatric Symptoms 

Hallucinations and behavioral changes can be treated with antipsychotic medications. Some antipsychotics increase the risk of involuntary movements, and these side effects can have a major impact on your quality of life, so side effects need to be closely monitored.

Complications 

If you develop complications of Huntington’s disease, you will need treatment for managing that specific complication.

Huntington’s disease may lead to nutritional deficits due to the cognitive changes and dysphagia (trouble swallowing). You might benefit from nutritional supplements to prevent weight loss and malnutrition. 

Infections, such as pneumonia, can often be treated with antibiotics. Muscle spasticity or muscle stiffness might need to be treated with muscle relaxants. And seizures, which can be part of juvenile Huntington’s disease, are managed with anticonvulsant medication.

If you have severe muscle stiffness that causes pain or inhibits your movements, medication adjustment is usually the first type of treatment, because some of the antipsychotic medication used in the treatment of Huntington’s disease can cause muscle stiffness..

Physical therapy may help as well. If that does not help, muscle relaxants can be prescribed.

Surgeries and Specialist-Driven Procedures

You may need a number of specialized treatments for managing the different effects of Huntington’s disease. Physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech and swallow therapy may be necessary.

For some people with Huntington’s disease, especially the juvenile form of Huntington’s disease, muscle stiffness can be a problem and may need procedural intervention beyond prescription medication treatment.

Active Therapy 

There are a number of types of therapy that you can actively participate in. Your therapy would be tailored to your problems, and this can change throughout the duration of your disease. 

  • Physical therapy is focused on improving your muscle strength, control, and coordination. 
  • Occupational therapy is focused on maintaining skills, such as self-care. 
  • Speech therapy can help you speak clearly if your muscle control is becoming impaired and interfering with your ability to speak in an understandable way. 
  • Swallow therapy is very important as Huntington’s disease advances. Eating safety involves learning how to chew and swallow with better muscle control, and also selecting food and liquids that aren’t choking hazards. You might need to have a diagnostic swallow evaluation as part of the planning for your speech and swallow therapy. 

Muscle Injections or Surgery

If your medical treatment of muscle spasms is not effective, you may benefit from botulinum toxin injections or even surgical release of the muscle.

Counseling 

You might also benefit from psychological counseling or behavioral therapy to help manage your mood changes, cognitive decline, and behavioral challenges. 

In the early stages of Huntington’s disease, you may have trouble thinking, problem-solving, and remembering things. Your therapist can help you with strategies so you can still maintain the best quality of life possible as some of these cognitive skills are declining. 

Your therapist can help you cope with hallucinations and can guide you into maintaining insight in the early stages of the condition. 

In addition to these strategies aimed at coping with symptoms, you can also meet with a therapist to discuss the emotional feelings you are having about your disease and its impact on your life.

Caregiver Support

With Huntington’s disease, family and caregivers can experience a major strain due to the condition.

The practical burden of taking care of a loved one whose independence is declining, along with the emotional feelings of watching your loved one change so much and the stress of knowing that other family members might also develop the condition all can add up to create substantial stress for caregivers. 

Resources for support can include professional counseling, support groups, and assistance with health care.

As a caregiver, you might feel some relief if you have a home care nurse come to check in your loved one, help with medications, and provide advice about safety and care in your home.

You may also want to reach out for help about how to make decisions regarding your loved one’s living situation. 

Emerging Treatment

There are a number of emerging therapies that are being examined in the treatment of Huntington’s disease. Experimental treatments are aimed at managing specific symptoms, as well as preventing the condition itself.

Experimental treatments may have an effect on the inflammatory process, neurotransmitter activity, brain atrophy, or a combination of these factors.

There has also been some preliminary research examining the possibility of using stem cells as a treatment for Huntington’s disease. The aim of this therapy would be to replace or regenerate the cells in the brain that are believed to be damaged in Huntington’s disease.

Additionally, research has also examined medications that could help alleviate the psychiatric and motor symptoms of the condition.

Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) 

So far there is not any CAM intervention that has been shown to alleviate Huntington’s disease or any symptoms of the condition, but CAM treatments for Huntington’s disease are being investigated in research studies.

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy shows some promise in alleviating stress associated with the condition. And herbal supplements are being examined in the research setting with the aim of assessing whether herbs could potentially have any beneficial effects. These studies are at a preliminary stage at this time.

A Word From Verywell

Treatment for Huntington’s disease involves managing symptoms. While there isn’t a cure for the condition, treatment is important for optimizing your quality of life, preventing complications, and reducing the effects of symptoms and complications that occur. 

 

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