MedStar Montgomery neurologists bring the expertise of MedStar Georgetown University Hospital's Huntington's Disease Center to Olney, MD. We develop personalized treatment plans for every patient, tailored to his or her specific needs. The disease progresses differently in each person, so individualized care leads to the best possible care.

Huntington’s disease is a genetic neurological disorder that causes nerve cells in the brain to degenerate, or die off. The disease has a broad physical, emotional and psychological impact. People with Huntington’s may have difficulty walking, talking and controlling movements. They may also have difficulty learning new information and suffer from depression or anxiety.

Huntington’s Disease Symptoms

Early symptoms—irritability, moodiness, loss of balance and difficulty making decisions—typically show up during a person’s mid-30s to 40s.

How quickly Huntington’s disease progresses, as well as the types and severity of symptoms, varies from person to person. The disease tends to follow three stages:

  • Early-stage brings on subtle changes in mood, memory and balance and coordination. A person may be clumsy, forgetful or easily agitated.
  • Middle-stage causes involuntary body movements called chorea that interfere with the ability to work, drive and complete daily life activities. Speech and swallowing become difficult.  
  • Late-stage leads to the inability to walk, speak or swallow. Around-the-clock care, usually in a care facility, is required.

How is Huntington’s Disease Diagnosed?

Your physician can diagnose Huntington’s disease by reviewing family history and conducting a neurological exam. You may also undergo one or more of the following tests:

  • Brain imaging tests: Head CT, MRI or PET scan, which can produce highly-detailed pictures of the brain that may reveal areas affected by the disease
  • Genetic blood testing: Genetic tests can confirm a diagnosis by detecting the presence of the gene known to cause Huntington’s

Huntington’s Disease Genetic Testing

People with Huntington’s disease have an abnormal copy of a gene called HTT. There is a 50 percent chance their children will inherit this genetic mutation and also develop the disease. A blood test called a predictive genetic test can identify this genetic mutation.

Genetic testing is not only useful for diagnosis, but also to understand if you or a loved one is a carrier who could pass on the HTT gene. At the Huntington’s Disease Center, our genetic counselors guide you through the testing procedures and outcome. You can schedule an informational visit with one of our counselors at any time without committing to actual genetic testing.

Huntington's Disease Treatments

The brain changes brought on by Huntington’s disease affect movement, thought processes, and emotions and behavior. While there’s no cure, the right treatments can help slow symptoms and improve quality of life. Learn more about our treatment options:

  • Treatments for movement disorders
  • Treatments for mood disorders
  • Treatments for cognitive disorders

Treatments for Movement Disorders

Therapies to treat movement disorders include:

  • Medications, including tetrabenazine, the only drug approved by the FDA to treat involuntary movements, or chorea
  • Physical therapy to strengthen muscles and foster better mobility
  • Occupational therapy to find adaptive ways to complete daily tasks
  • Speech therapy to improve speech and swallowing

Treatments for Mood Disorders

Therapies to treat mood disorders include:

  • Antidepressants to control depression, suicidal thoughts and a tendency towards obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Mood stabilizers to reduce mood swings
  • Antipsychotic medications to control violent outbursts, psychosis and agitation
  • Anti-anxiety medications to relieve anxiety and foster better sleep
  • Psychotherapy to provide coping strategies and manage behavioral problems

Treatments for Cognitive Disorders

Therapies to treat cognitive disorders include:

  • Neuropsychology to provide strategies for coping with memory loss

Researching Huntington’s Disease Treatments at MedStar Georgetown

MedStar Georgetown's specialists are part of the Huntington Study Group, a global network of clinical researchers committed to finding better ways to treat symptoms and stop the disease via ongoing research and clinical trials. Learn more about Clinical Trials available at MedStar Georgetown. 

Huntington's Disease
Drs. Fahd Amjad and Karen Anderson working together at the Huntington Disease Care, Education and Research Center.

Huntington’s Disease (HD) is a rare genetic disorder that causes nerve cells in the brain to break down. The disease is so rare—an estimated 30,000 Americans are known to have HD, including 1,400 people in the Washington, D.C., Virginia and Maryland area. Learn about MedStar Montgomery's Huntington's Disease Center available to Montgomery County, MD residents