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Sydenham chorea is a movement disorder that often occurs in children between the ages of 5 and 15. Also known as St. Vitus dance or rheumatic chorea, it is characterized by involuntary movements of the limbs, face, and trunk. Treatment usually involves supportive care, such as bed rest, sedatives, and medications to control movement.

What Is Sydenham Chorea?

Sydenham chorea is a childhood movement disorder characterized by rapid, irregular, aimless, involuntary movements of the muscles of the face trunk, arms, and legs.
The condition most often occurs in children between the ages of 5 and 15. It affects girls more often than boys.
Other names for Sydenham chorea include:
  • St. Vitus dance
  • Rheumatic chorea.

What Causes It?

Sydenham chorea is considered to be a complication of acute rheumatic fever (streptococcal infection). In some cases, this disorder may be the only symptom a person with acute rheumatic fever experiences.
Sydenham chorea is believed to result from an autoimmune mechanism that occurs when the streptococcal infection causes the body to make antibodies to specific brain regions.

Symptoms of Sydenham Chorea

Signs and symptoms of this condition may appear gradually or suddenly. Common symptoms of Sydenham chorea can include:
  • Rapid, irregular, aimless, involuntary movements of the muscles of the limbs, face, and trunk (known as chorea)
  • Muscle weakness
  • Hypotonia (decreased muscle tone)
  • Clumsiness
  • Emotional and behavioral problems, including obsessive-compulsive behavior.
The symptoms vary in severity, from mild cases -- in which there is restlessness, facial grimacing, and a slight degree of incoordination of movements -- to severe cases involving involuntary movements that incapacitate the child.
Sydenham chorea may strike up to six months after the fever or infection has cleared.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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