Huntington’s Disease and Other Choreas
The term “chorea” refers to irregular, uncontrollable movements of the arms, legs, and face. These movements are seen in Huntington’s disease, also known as “Huntington’s chorea,” and a number of similar disorders.
The first signs of Huntington’s disease and other choreas are usually mild fidgetiness and clumsiness, as well as forgetfulness, difficulty thinking, and depression. Involuntary movements develop gradually, worsening over time. Other symptoms of Huntington’s disease and other choreas are poor balance and coordination, resulting in falls, bone fractures, and head injuries.
Several genetic diseases resemble Huntington’s. These diseases are much rarer and are less likely to be correctly recognized and diagnosed. They include:
- Huntington’s disease-like 2
- McLeod syndrome
- Spinocerebellar ataxias
People with other conditions, such as autoimmune diseases, cancer, diabetes, and stroke, may also develop chorea.
Chorea is a common side effect of high-dose Parkinson’s disease medications. It can also occur upon use of anti-psychotic medications and some anti-nausea drugs. In those cases the side effect is permanent. Chorea can also occur as a side effect of other medications.
The most common form of chorea is Huntington’s disease. Huntington’s disease is genetic, meaning it can be passed on from parent to child. Each child of an affected parent has a 50-50 chance of developing the disease. Unfortunately, the symptoms often start after people have already had children. Symptoms may start at a younger age in the next generation. Occasionally, symptoms develop in an older person with no family history of the disorder.
To diagnose Huntington’s, we perform a genetic test using a blood sample. We provide genetic counseling so that you can learn how the results will affect your family.
Treatment is aimed at reducing the severity of your symptoms. Neurologists at Mount Sinai’s Robert and John M. Bendheim Parkinson and Movement Disorders Center will determine the best medication to alleviate your symptoms. In some cases our physicians may prescribe specialized treatments, such as botulinum toxin injections or deep brain stimulation.
In addition to a neurologist, our Center may arrange for you to meet with a psychiatrist, who can help you with problems concerning mood, depression, and changes in behavior, such as impulsivity and poor attention span. We can also arrange for you to meet with a speech therapist to help you overcome speech problems and swallowing difficulties, which can lead to choking.
Weight loss is a common problem for those with Huntington’s disease and other choreas. We may prescribe nutritional supplements to help you maintain a healthy weight. Our physical therapists can help you improve your strength and coordination and determine if assistive devices might help, and our occupational therapists can help you improve your daily living skills.
We can help
Physicians at our Robert and John M. Bendheim Parkinson and Movement Disorders Center have extensive expertise in diagnosing and treating Huntington’s disease and other choreas. Please call 212-241-5607 to schedule an appointment.
Robert and John M. Bendheim Parkinson and Movement Disorders Center
5 East 98th Street, Box 1138
New York, NY 10029-6574