What Is Huntington's Disease (HD)?

Huntington's disease is a genetic disease and movement disorder that causes a degeneration of nerve cells in the brain. Huntington's disease greatly impacts functional abilities and usually results in movement, thinking (cognitive) and psychiatric disorders. Because it is a genetic disease, many patients with Huntington's disease also have affected parents, siblings, or children.

Everyone carries a copy of the Huntington's gene. However, patients with Huntington's disease have mutations in this gene that cause it to be longer than normal (the disease-causing version contains abnormal "repeats" of a specific DNA segment). When this mutation occurs, the Huntington's protein accumulates in the neurons and eventually causes these cells to die.

Diagnosis of Huntington's Disease (HD)

Genetic testing definitively diagnoses Huntington's Disease in conjunction with these diagnostic tests:

  • MRI — may be done to exclude other disorders
  • Neurological examination
  • Psychiatric evaluation
  • Treatment at Penn

    The Penn Parkinson's Disease and Movement Disorders Center (PD & MDC) provides comprehensive care to patients with Huntington's disease and other types of movement disorders. We have more than 30 years of experience in the diagnosis and management of Huntington's disease and other movement disorders.

    Our multidisciplinary team of specialists implements a holistic approach to care and includes a diverse group of neurologists, neurosurgeons, physical therapists, psychotherapists, social workers and nurses. We work together to create individualized treatment plans tailored to the unique needs of every patient.

    Treatment for Huntington's disease may include:

  • Drug treatment
  • Genetic counseling and support for caregivers
  • Occupational therapy
  • Psychiatric and neuropsychology services
  • Physical therapy
  • Speech therapy
  • Social services
  • In collaboration with the PD & MDC, patients with Huntington's disease receive rehabilitation services at The Dan Aaron Parkinson Rehabilitation Center (DAPRC). Established in 2000, the DAPRC is a leading rehabilitation center for Huntington's disease, Parkinson's disease and other neurodegenerative disorders.

    Highlights of the DAPRC include:

  • Comprehensive physical, occupational and speech therapy
  • Participation in rehabilitation research projects
  • Weekly exercise groups for patients
  • Yearly rehabilitation conferences for patients and care partners
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