How is Huntington's disease (HD) treated?
There is no cure for HD and no way to halt its progression. Treatments are designed to relieve symptoms, minimize harm and provide comfort. The first goal is to minimize any unnecessary medications or those that may be producing side effects. Assessments by physical, occupational, and speech therapists may provide insight into the patient’s difficulties and offer helpful suggestions before medications are needed. Tetrabenazine (Xenazine®) is the only approved medication for the treatment of chorea in HD. Sedation and the possibility of triggering depression are potential side effects. Chorea may sometimes be treated with antipsychotic drugs, such as haloperidol (Haldol®). In addition to reducing the abnormal movements, they may also treat co-existing psychiatric or behavioral symptoms, such as paranoia and agitation. Side effects include sleepiness, dry mouth, and less commonly, abnormal movements. There are no treatments to slow, reverse or cure the disease.
What are the special needs of people who have Huntington's disease?
Caregivers of individuals who have HD can take steps to help the patient with daily activities. It can be helpful to the patient to keep his or her environment as "normal" as possible.
Exercise can help the patient physically and mentally, so the person with HD should try to maintain some regular physical activity if possible.
Proper nutrition and hydration are very important because the person with HD may have trouble maintaining enough caloric or fluid intakes. For patients with HD who have difficulty swallowing or choke, a swallowing evaluation can be valuable to guide caregivers on how best to prepare foods.
Caregivers can also make use of various community resources for the person with HD, including social work services, home care services and support groups. At some point, the demands of care may exceed what the caregiver can provide and placement in a long term care facility may be required. The Huntington’s Disease Society of America (HDSA) is a national voluntary organization, with local and regional chapters, committed to educating and supporting patients and families with HD.