Sydenham chorea is a movement disorder that occurs after infection with specific bacteria called group A streptococcus.
Sydenham chorea is caused by an infection with bacteria called group A streptococcus. This is the bacteria that cause rheumatic fever (RF) and strep throat. Group A streptococcus bacteria can react with a part of the brain called the basal ganglia to cause this disorder. The basal ganglia are a set of structures deep in the brain. They help control movement, posture, and speech.
Sydenham chorea is a major sign of acute RF. The person may currently or recently have had the disease. Sydenham chorea may be the only sign of RF in some people.
Sydenham chorea occurs most often in girls before puberty, but may be seen in boys.
Sydenham chorea mainly involves jerky, uncontrollable and purposeless movements of the hands, arms, shoulder, face, legs, and trunk. These movements look like twitches, and disappear during sleep. Other symptoms may include:
- Changes in handwriting
- Loss of fine motor control, especially of the fingers and hands
- Loss of emotional control, with bouts of inappropriate crying or laughing
Symptoms of RF may be present. These may include:
- High fever
- Heart problem
- Joint pain or swelling
- Skin lumps or skin rashes
Exams and Tests
The health care provider will perform a physical exam. The provider will ask questions about your symptoms.
If a Group A streptococcus infection is suspected, tests will be done to confirm the infection. These include:
- Throat swab
- Anti-DNAse B blood test
- Antistreptolysin O (ASO) blood test
Further testing may include:
Antibiotics are used to kill the Group A streptococcus bacteria. The provider may also prescribe antibiotics to prevent future RF infections. This is called preventive antibiotics, or antibiotic prophylaxis.
Severe movement or emotional symptoms may need to be treated with medicines.
Sydenham chorea usually clears up in a few months. In rare cases, an unusual form of Sydenham chorea may begin later in life.
No complications are expected.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Contact your provider if your child develops uncontrollable or jerky movements, especially if the child has recently had a sore throat.
Pay careful attention to children's complaints of sore throats and get early treatment to prevent acute RF. If there is a family history of RF, be watchful, because your children may be more likely to develop this infection.
St. Vitus dance; Chorea minor; Rheumatic chorea; Rheumatic fever - Sydenham chorea; Strep throat - Sydenham chorea; Streptococcal - Sydenham chorea; Streptococcus - Sydenham chorea
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Okun MS, Lang AE. Other movement disorders. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 382.
Shulman ST, Jaggi P. Nonsuppurative poststreptococcal sequelae: rheumatic fever and glomerulonephritis. In: Bennett JE, Dolin R, Blaser MJ, eds. Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett's Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 198.
Review Date 5/2/2022
Updated by: Amit M. Shelat, DO, FACP, FAAN, Attending Neurologist and Assistant Professor of Clinical Neurology, Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, NY. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.