Many people with Huntington’s disease experience chorea, but they are separate conditions. Chorea is one of several common symptoms of Huntington’s disease, but it has other potential causes.

Chorea is a neurological condition that involves involuntary, random, and continuous movement while a person is awake. It can affect the entire body but commonly causes movement in the face, hands, and feet. The movements stop when the person falls asleep.

Chorea is a symptom of several conditions, including Huntington’s disease, which is a rare, inherited disorder. A person has a 50% chance of developing the condition if one of their biological parents is living with the condition.

In the United States, about 30,000 people are living with Huntington’s disease, and an estimated 200,000 more are at risk of developing the disease.

A person typically develops symptoms aged 30–50 years. Following the onset of symptoms, a person with Huntington’s disease may live for another 15–20 years as the disease progresses.

Huntington’s disease is not the same as chorea. Chorea is one of several common symptoms of Huntington’s disease.

Other symptoms of Huntington’s disease include:

  • impaired judgment
  • forgetfulness
  • unsteady gait
  • difficulty talking
  • trouble eating and swallowing
  • depression
  • changes in personality
  • mood swings
  • weight loss

Most cases of Huntington’s disease will result in the person developing chorea. Chorea involves involuntary movements, muscle jerks, or tics.

Chorea is not limited to Huntington’s disease, and other neurological conditions can also cause it. An accurate diagnosis is important so that a person experiencing chorea can receive appropriate treatment.

Huntington’s disease is a progressive, neurodegenerative disorder that an individual can inherit from a parent living with the condition. In other words, people develop symptoms slowly over time as the disease affects the brain.

When the effects on the brain are severe enough, a person with Huntington’s disease will start to notice symptoms, which may include uncontrolled muscle movements due to chorea. Chorea occurs when there is overactivity in the basal ganglia, which is the part of the brain that controls movement.

Additional symptoms may start to develop over time, including impaired movement and speech, changes in personality, and cognitive issues.

Some evidence suggests that not everyone who develops chorea due to Huntington’s disease is aware that they have the symptom.

For instance, in a 2020 study, researchers tested 50 people with Huntingdon’s disease for chorea. They noted that about 46% of the participants did not report chorea despite having clinical signs of it. Additionally, about 88% of those who reported chorea did not note it affecting all areas of the body in which researchers observed the symptom.

People living with Huntington’s disease often receive supportive treatment for chorea. For other causes, a doctor will treat the underlying condition to address chorea.

There is no cure for Huntington’s disease, and it is not possible to slow or reverse the course of the disease. Instead, treatments focus on helping a person find symptom relief with medications and therapy.

To help manage chorea in Huntington’s disease, doctors may prescribe tetrabenazine (Xenazine) or deutetrabenazine (Austedo). If someone is experiencing chorea due to another cause, a different medication may be necessary to address the underlying cause.

A doctor may also prescribe antipsychotic medications for involuntary movements. This supportive care may help with mild symptoms, but it may become less effective as the disease progresses.

In addition, a doctor may recommend physical or occupational therapy to help a person develop additional muscle strength and learn to move around safely. Therapists may work with family members or caregivers to help set up a safe home environment.

For other symptoms or complications, such as depression, a doctor may recommend counseling or antidepressants.

The majority of people living with Huntington’s disease will develop some form of tics or involuntary muscle movement. However, a 2020 study found that many people living with Huntington’s disease are unaware of chorea in all or some areas of the body.

Additionally, as the disease progresses, chorea may subside. In its place, a person may develop akinesia, the inability to move a muscle by choice.

What other conditions have chorea as a symptom?

Chorea is not only a symptom of Huntington’s disease. Several conditions can cause chorea.

Doctors may classify chorea as a primary (idiopathic, hereditary) or secondary (acquired) condition. They may sometimes find diagnosing the cause of chorea challenging because the condition presents in almost the same way regardless of cause.

However, hereditary forms tend to present symmetrically and develop gradually, whereas acquired forms may be asymmetrical or unilateral and are often acute.

Other conditions that may cause chorea include:

  • Sydenham’s chorea
  • systemic lupus erythematosus
  • focal vascular lesions in the basal ganglia
  • metabolic or endocrinological disorders, such as hyperthyroidism
  • side effects of certain medications, such as levodopa, neuroleptics, and birth control pills
  • pregnancy
  • autoimmune disorders

Chorea is a primary symptom of Huntington’s disease. Although it is often associated with the disease, it has other possible causes, including pregnancy, certain medications, and other underlying conditions, such as hyperthyroidism.

Huntington’s disease is a progressive disease that develops slowly. Over time, it causes a person to lose physical and mental function. People with Huntington’s disease may live for 15–20 years after the onset of symptoms.

Although no treatment can reverse, slow, or cure Huntington’s disease, a person may find symptom relief with certain medications and through physical or occupational therapy.