Chorea: A Journey Throughout History

  • Thiago Cardoso Vale
  • Francisco Cardoso

Abstract

The original descriptions of chorea date from the Middle Ages, when an epidemic of “dancing mania” swept throughout Europe. The condition was initially considered a curse sent by a saint, but was named “Saint Vitus’s dance” because afflicted individuals were cured if they touched churches storing Saint Vitus’s relics. Paracelsus coined the term chorea Sancti Viti and recognized different forms of chorea (imaginativa, lasciva, and naturalis). In the 17th century, Thomas Sydenham provided an accurate description of what he termed chorea minor. He also described rheumatic fever but did not associate it with chorea. It was only in 1850 that See established a relationship between chorea and rheumatic disease. A connection with cardiac involvement was soon recognized and in 1866 Roger postulated that chorea, arthritis, and heart disease had a common cause. The last quarter of the 19th century is marked by the works of Jean‐Martin Charcot, Silas Weir Mitchell, William Osler, and William Richard Gowers, all of paramount importance in the refinement of the definition of chorea, its causes, and differential diagnosis. In 1841, Charles Oscar Waters gave a concise account of a syndrome, likely to be Huntington’s disease (HD), later described further by George Huntington and named after him. In 1955, the Venezuelan physician Americo Negrette published a book describing communities in the State of Zulia in Venezuela, with unusual numbers of individuals with chorea. Negrette’s works culminated in the creation of the Venezuela project and the subsequent discovery of seminal findings in HD. We review the historical facts and outstanding physicians that mark both HD and Sydenham’s chorea’s history in various sections.