Background and purpose The prevalence of Huntington's disease (HD) in the UK is uncertain. Recently, it has been suggested that the prevalence may be substantially greater than previously reported. This study was undertaken to estimate the overall UK prevalence in adults diagnosed with HD, using data from primary care.
Methods The electronic medical records of patients aged 21 years or more, with recorded diagnoses of HD, were retrieved from the UK's General Practice Research Database. Prevalence was estimated from the number of persons with recorded diagnoses of HD, on 1 July each year, between 1990 and 2010. This number was divided by the total number of persons registered with participating general practices on that same date. These data were also used to estimate both age specific prevalence and prevalence in various regions of the UK.
Results A total of 1136 patients diagnosed with HD, aged 21 years or more, were identified from the database. The estimated prevalence (expressed per 100 000 population) rose from 5.4 (95% CI 3.8 to 7.5) in 1990 to 12.3 (95% CI 11.2 to 13.5) in 2010. Although an increased prevalence was observed within every age group, the most dramatic was in older patients. Age specific prevalence was highest in the 51–60 year age range (15.8 95% CI 9.0 to 22.3). The prevalence of adult HD was lowest in the London region (5.4 (95% CI 3.0 to 8.9)) and highest in the North East of England (18.3 (95% CI 8.6 to 34.6)) and Scotland (16.1 (95% CI 10.8 to 22.9)).
Conclusions The prevalence of diagnosed HD is clearly substantially higher in the UK than suggested from previous studies. By extrapolation to the UK as a whole, it is estimated that there are more than 5700 people, aged 21 years or more, with HD. There has also been a surprising doubling of the HD population between 1990 and 2010. Many factors may have caused this increase, including more accurate diagnoses, better and more available therapies and an improved life expectancy, even with HD. There also appears to be a greater willingness to register a diagnosis of HD in patients’ electronic medical records. Such a high prevalence of HD requires more ingenuity and responsiveness in its care. How to appropriately care for, and respond to, so many individuals and families coping with the exigencies of HD demands our greatest resolve and imagination.