Cognitive Disorders (M Geschwind, Section Editor)

Current Treatment Options in Neurology

, Volume 14, Issue 2, pp 137-149

First online:

Therapeutics in Huntington’s Disease

  • Annie KilloranAffiliated withExperimental Therapeutics in Movement Disorders, University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry
  • , Kevin M. BiglanAffiliated withMovement and Inherited Neurological Disorders Unit in the Department of Neurology, University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry Email author 

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Opinion statement

There is no specific treatment for Huntington’s disease (HD). Its many symptoms of motor, psychiatric, and cognitive deterioration are managed with symptomatic relief, rehabilitation, and support. The only drug approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of HD is an antichoreic agent, tetrabenazine, but this drug is used sparingly because of uneasiness regarding its propensity to cause depression and suicidality in this population, which is already at risk for these complications. Neuroleptics are still first-line treatments for chorea accompanied by comorbid depression and/or behavioral or psychotic symptoms, as is often the case. Psychiatric features, which have a significant impact on a patient’s professional and personal life, often become the major focus of management. In addition to neuroleptics, commonly used medications include antidepressants, mood stabilizers, anxiolytics, and psychostimulants. In contrast, few treatment options are available for cognitive impairment in HD; this remains an important and largely unmet therapeutic need. HD patients typically lack insight into their disease manifestations, failing to recognize their need for treatment, and possibly even arguing against it. Multipurpose medications are employed advantageously to simplify the medication regimen, so as to facilitate compliance and not overwhelm the patient. For example, haloperidol can be prescribed for a patient with chorea, agitation, and anorexia, rather than targeting each symptom with a different drug. This approach also limits the potential for adverse effects, which can be difficult to distinguish from the features of the disease itself. With HD’s complexity, it is best managed with a multidisciplinary approach that includes a movement disorders specialist, a genetic counselor, a mental health professional, a physical therapist, and a social worker for support and coordination of services. As the disease progresses, there may be need for other specialists, such as a speech and occupational therapist, a nutritionist for weight loss, and ultimately, a palliative care specialist.

Keywords

Huntington’s disease Huntington disease Chorea Treatment Therapy Tetrabenazine Neuroleptics Haloperidol Juvenile Huntington’s disease Pharmacologic treatment Trinucleotide repeat disorder