Psychological distress in the 5-year period after predictive testing for Huntington's disease

Eur J Hum Genet. 2003 Jan;11(1):30-8. doi: 10.1038/sj.ejhg.5200913.


The paper reports on a 5-year longitudinal study on psychological distress after predictive testing for Huntington's disease (HD) and on correlates of post-test distress. Psychometric tests and questionnaires were used. The tested persons were invited to participate in the follow-up study; the uptake rate was 75% (24 carriers, 33 non-carriers). Three time points were included: baseline, 1 year and 5 years post-test. Five years after the test, mean distress scores of both carriers and non-carriers were within the normal range. Carriers did not differ from non-carriers with regard to mean general distress. Compared to non-carriers, however, carriers had significantly less positive feelings (P<0.001) and were more consciously avoiding HD-related situations and thoughts (P<0.01). These findings reflect the carriers' conscious and unconscious attempt to escape from pessimism and to minimise negative consequences of the test result. Psychological distress 5 years post-test was significantly associated with ego-strength (P<0.05 to P<0.001). Except for intrusion and avoidance, distress was also associated with test motivation (P<0.05 to P<0.01). Compared with baseline level, mean depression, general and specific anxiety had significantly decreased 1 year and 5 years post-test (P<0.05 to 0.01). This evolution was independent of the test result. However, based on test motivation, a subgroup of tested persons having long lasting psychological distress could be identified, also irrespective of test result. Persons who asked the test to get rid of the uncertainty, without being able to specify implications for substantial life areas, had more psychological distress before and after the test than those who wanted the test for specific reasons (P<0.001 to P<0.0001). Moreover, the pattern of post-test anxiety differed over time, depending on the test motivation (P<0.05). The findings suggest that pre- and post-test counselling should pay special attention to persons with lower ego-strength and with an unspecified test motivation, because they are at higher risk for long-term psychological distress, independently of the test result.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adult
  • Anxiety / psychology
  • Attitude to Health
  • Depression / psychology
  • Ego
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Genetic Carrier Screening
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease / psychology
  • Genetic Testing / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Huntington Disease / genetics*
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Motivation
  • Social Class
  • Stress, Psychological*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires