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Home-HD Symptoms

Don't Forget-Quick Reminders

Published by HOPES
(Huntington's Outreach Project for Education, at Stanford University)

Depression is often dismissed as an understandable reaction to being diagnosed with Huntington's Disease. While a saddened mood is an understandable response to the life changes and loss of abilities resulting from HD, research and clinical experience show that many HD patients do not suffer from clinical depression.

However, when depression does occur in HD, it often appears to be the direct result of changes in the brain caused by the disease. Brain changes due to HD can alter neurotransmitters, the chemicals that regulate moods. Thus, depression in HD is partly biological and partly situational, as an affected individual becomes aware of the life changes that may result from HD.

One of the challenges in managing depression for a person with HD is the diagnosis. Unfortunately, many of the symptoms of HD, such as memory loss, weight loss and apathy, resemble the symptoms of depression, thus making it potentially difficult to diagnose depression in an individual who has HD.

Because patients with HD often have difficulty describing their emotional state, a specific complaint of a depressed mood is usually not necessary to diagnose depression.

Following is a list of possible signs and symptoms of depression:
  • Lack of interest in usual activities
  • Sleeping most of the day or rarely sleeping
  • Depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day
  • Weight loss
  • Slower movements or speech
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Social withdrawal
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Recurrent suicidal thoughts
  • Loss of sex drive

The suicide rate for persons suffering from HD is seven times the national average. If a person with HD may be depressed, it is recommended to contact his or her physician. For a list of risk factors for suicide and suicide prevention tips, click here.

Depression is very treatable. Generally, physicians recommend aggressive treatment of depression in persons with HD. Treatment of depression can greatly improve one's quality of life and significantly reduce the risk of suicide. Depression may precede the onset of other symptoms, and treatment may improve other problem behaviors. For more treatment information, click here.