The psychological impact of predictive genetic testing for Huntington's disease: a systematic review of the literature

J Genet Couns. 2015 Feb;24(1):29-39. doi: 10.1007/s10897-014-9755-y. Epub 2014 Sep 20.


Huntington's disease (HD) is a neurodegenerative genetic condition for which a predictive genetic test by mutation analysis has been available since 1993. However, whilst revealing the future presence of the disease, testing may have an adverse psychological impact given that the disease is progressive, incurable and ultimately fatal. This review seeks to systematically explore the psychological impact of genetic testing for individuals undergoing pre-symptomatic mutation analysis. Three databases (Medline, PsycInfo and Scopus) were interrogated for studies utilising standardised measures to assess psychological impact following predictive genetic testing for HD. From 100 papers initially identified, eight articles were eligible for inclusion. Psychological impact of predictive genetic testing was not found to be associated with test result. No detrimental effect of predictive genetic testing on non-carriers was found, although the process was not found to be psychologically neutral. Fluctuation in levels of distress was found over time for carriers and non-carriers alike. Methodological weaknesses of published literature were identified, notably the needs of individuals not requesting genetic testing, as well as inadequate support for individuals registering elevated distress and declining post-test follow-up. Further assessment of these vulnerable individuals is warranted to establish the extent and type of future psychological support.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Genetic Counseling / psychology*
  • Genetic Diseases, Inborn / psychology
  • Genetic Testing*
  • Humans
  • Huntington Disease / genetics*
  • Huntington Disease / psychology*