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Neurosciences and Behavioral Health Center

Huntington's Disease

Huntington's Disease

Huntington's disease (HD) is an inherited disorder that affects the brain. HD causes slow, progressive degeneration of nerve cells in certain areas of the brain. Eventually, HD results in:

  • Abnormal body movements
  • Gradual deterioration or loss of intellectual abilities
  • Behavior problems

You’re more likely to develop HD if you have a family member with the disease. Those with HD have a 50 percent chance of passing off the disorder to their children. 


Symptoms most often develop between the ages of 30-50. Symptoms are mild at first and are often barely noticeable, but usually worsen over the course of 15-20 years.

Abnormal body movements that worsen over time may include:

  • Sudden jerks or uncontrolled movements of the limbs or trunk
  • Facial grimacing
  • Continuous need to turn head and shift gaze
  • Walking that is unsteady or dance-like

Gradual deterioration or loss of intellectual abilities may include:

  • Difficulty with eating and swallowing, which may result in weight loss
  • Difficulty dressing, sitting and caring for oneself
  • Grunting or poor articulation of speech

Loss of intellectual and behavior problems may include:

  • Trouble with attention and awareness
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Loss of memory
  • Loss of judgment
  • Loss of ability to think rationally
  • Irritability and moodiness
  • Depression 
  • Anxiety
  • Social withdrawal or antisocial behavior
  • Irresponsible behavior
  • Obsessive-compulsive behavior
  • Personality changes
  • Psychosis — a severe emotional and behavioral disorder that often interferes with a person's ability to relate to others and to function in daily life
  • Paranoia — a mental disorder that involves feelings of being watched, followed or harmed by others
  • Hallucinations — the perception of a thing or person that is not present

Ultimately, HD can:

  • Cause the loss of the physical and mental ability to care for oneself
  • Cause severe disability, making full-time or nursing home care necessary
  • Result in death, often due to a fall or pneumonia


You may need to have imaging tests, which take pictures of internal body structures. Imaging tests include:

  • CT scan
  • MRI scan
  • PET scan

We highly recommend genetic counseling to determine if you inherited the HD gene before symptoms appear. 


There is no cure for HD. Treatment aims to help control symptoms.


Medication can help control abnormal movements and emotional symptoms of HD. 

Physical Fitness

Physical activity or physical and occupational therapy can help people with HD to function better and longer. 


Call our Huntington's Disease Clinic.


Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

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