The neurology team recommends against imaging for Mr. J because HD-related changes are not typically seen until later in the disease progression. On Day 9, they recommend changing from risperidone to quetiapine (50 mg every night at bedtime) due to evidence of its effectiveness specifically for treating behavioral symptoms of HD.13
While receiving quetiapine, Mr. J experiences significant drowsiness. Because he had experienced improvement in thought organization while he was receiving risperidone, he is switched back to risperidone.
The authors’ observations
Currently, no treatments are available to prevent the development or progression of HD. However, symptomatic treatment of motor and behavioral disturbances can lead to functional improvement and improved quality of life for individuals affected by HD.
There are no extensive clinical trials to date, but multiple case reports and studies have shown second-generation antipsychotics (SGAs), including quetiapine, olanzapine, aripiprazole, and risperidone, are moderately effective in improving HD-associated psychotic symptoms.9,12-16 Quetiapine is often suggested at lower doses because it has the least extrapyramidal effects of the aforementioned SGAs and will not cause worsening of bradykinesia or rigidity, which have been associated with later-stage HD.13 Multiple case reports have noted that risperidone, which Mr. J tolerated and responded to, improved both psychiatric symptoms and motor symptoms.9,12 A retrospective study found that risperidone use over 15 months reduced psychiatric symptoms and stabilized motor decline.14 Varying dosages of risperidone, from 1 mg/d to 4 mg/d, were used in these case reports and study. Olanzapine and aripiprazole have been similarly effective in improving HD-associated psychosis as well as movement symptoms.15,16Clozapine is generally not recommended in patients with HD because high doses are required to achieve similar improvements in movement symptoms, which places patients at increased risk for adverse dose-dependent reactions, including agranulocytosis.17
OUTCOME Discharge despite persistent delusions
Mr. J’s religious and grandiose delusions continue throughout hospitalization despite treatment with antipsychotics. However, because he remains calm and cooperative and demonstrates improvement in thought organization, he is deemed safe for discharge and instructed to continue risperidone. The team coordinates with Mr. J’s family to arrange transportation home and outpatient neurology follow-up.
Psychiatric manifestations, including psychosis, are prominent symptoms of Huntington’s disease (HD) and may precede the onset of more readily recognized motor symptoms. This poses a diagnostic challenge, and clinicians should remain cognizant of this possibility, especially in patients with a family history of HD-associated psychosis.
- Huntington’s Disease Society of America. http://hdsa.org.
- National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Huntington’s disease information page: What research is being done? https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/All-Disorders/Huntingtons-Disease-Information-Page.
- Scher LM. How to target psychiatric symptoms of Huntington’s disease. Current Psychiatry. 2012;11(9):34-39.
Drug Brand Names
Aripiprazole • Abilify
Clozapine • Clozaril
Haloperidol • Haldol
Olanzapine • Zyprexa
Quetiapine • Seroquel
Risperidone • Risperdal