Sydenham’s chorea is a neurological disease and causes jerky, rapid, involuntary movements, especially in the arms, legs, and face.
Nobody likes getting sick, but at least when most people fall ill, they have mild, common symptoms like a cough, runny nose, or fever, and can recover in a week or two. For patients who are suffering from Sydenham’s chorea, also called St. Vitus’s dance and chorea minor, this isn’t always the case. It is relatively uncommon and rare, so many people don’t know that much about it. Below are seven things you need to know about Sydenham’s chorea.
1. It Develops Because of Other Illnesses
Something interesting about Sydenham’s chorea is that it is an effect of another illness. Usually, it develops from a streptococcal infection as an aftereffect, taking up to 6 months to develop after the original infection has left the body. Additionally, about a quarter of the people who come down with rheumatic fever suffer from Sydenham’s chorea as a symptom, which has become increasingly rare as cases of rheumatic fever have declined in the past few decades.
2. It Usually Affects Girls and Children
Sydenham’s chorea tends to be more prevalent in girls than boys, which makes sense because the disease can also develop as a rare complication of pregnancy. In terms of the age demographic that this illness usually affects, it is very unusual for anyone younger than five, or older than fifteen, to contract this.
3. It Often Only Affects One Side of the Body
Sydenham’s chorea can affect the whole body and many parts of it, but sometimes it only impacts one side of the body, a phenomenon called hemiballism. Hemiballism and Sydenham’s chorea are very closely related, as they are both neurological diseases and cause the characteristic jerks and twitches, but hemiballism stands out because of its effect on only one side of the body. Interestingly enough, there isn’t a noticeable tendency of whether or not hemiballism impacts the left side or the right side more often.
4. The Name “St. Vitus’s Dance” Comes From the Middle Ages
Although this disease is most commonly referred to Sydenham’s chorea, it also goes by the name of St. Vitus’s Dance, the origin of which has been traced back to the Middle Ages. A group of people who were infected with the illness traveled to the church of St. Vitus, who they believed had healing powers and could rid their bodies of it. As for the “dance” part of the name, Sydenham’s chorea is also responsible for an odd occurrence around the Middle Ages, described below.
5. It Caused “Dancing Mania”
As mentioned, Sydenham’s chorea affects the nervous system, and jerky, involuntary movements in the patient’s body. Between the 14th and 17th centuries, groups of people would break out in involuntary dance and would continue dancing until they collapsed of exhaustion. The dancers were almost unconscious and were unable to stop themselves. At the time, the dancing mania mystified many scientists and doctors, but around the 17th century, it was diagnosed as Sydenham’s chorea.
6. The Severity of Symptoms Varies
As with many diseases, the severity of the symptoms of Sydenham’s chorea vary. Some people only have mild symptoms, small twitches or jerks that only moderately affect their writing, motor skills, and ability to do daily tasks. But others are significantly affected and cannot go about their daily lives because of the movements. They can develop irritability, confusion, muscle weakness, and even temporary paralysis. If the symptoms are milder, bed rest is likely the only treatment that is needed to recover, but if they are severe, drugs and medications are often prescribed.
7. Basal Ganglia Cells Are Likely to Blame
There are still a lot of unknowns about Sydenham’s chorea, but scientists and medical researchers have made some progress in figuring out what causes the disease. It is a neurological illness, so issues in the brain, specifically in the group of cells called basal ganglia, are thought to be to blame for Sydenham’s chorea. Additionally, problems in the cerebral cortex could be responsible for the jerky, involuntary movements, and the emotional issues that sometimes present themselves.
Sydenham’s chorea is a fascinating neurological disease, with symptoms that include violent, involuntary movements sometimes akin to dancing. The disease is also called St. Vitus’s Dance, and was responsible for an occurrence between the fourteenth and seventeenth centuries called “dancing mania.” This disease has a specific group of people that it is more likely to impact, and a range in the severity of symptoms, too. Although some things have been discovered about the disease, researchers are continuing to look at the causes of Sydenham’s chorea, along with its interesting effects.