Symptoms of Huntington's disease

The symptoms of Huntington’s disease vary widely between people. Even people in the same family may be affected differently. However, changes usually affect three main areas: movement (movements may happen that you don’t expect, while doing what you do want to do becomes more difficult); cognitive (difficulties with planning and thinking) and behaviour (changes in behaviour and personality).

Symptoms usually develop between the ages of 30-50 years, although they can start at any time.

Sometimes, symptoms are present for a long time before a diagnosis of Huntington’s disease is made. Professionals and families can mistake Huntington’s for a different illness such as Parkinson’s disease or Alzheimer’s disease. This is especially true when people are not aware that the faulty gene is in their family and that they are at risk.

If a person develops symptoms before the age of 20, this is known as Juvenile Huntington’s disease. The symptoms may at first appear as stiffness and clumsiness in the arms and legs. Parents may notice a change of performance at school, behavioural changes and disturbances in speech.

The disease is progressive, meaning that symptoms increase over time and greater care and support is needed the longer someone has it.

  • The movement disorder is usually the most obvious first symptom.
  • The cognitive disorder is usually the symptom people find affects them most in daily life.
  • The behavioural disorder is usually the one that gives patients and carers the most concern.

There are many ways that people living with Huntington’s can get help and support with their symptoms to greatly improve their quality of life.