Chorea | Neurology & Neurosurgery | Loyola Medicine

Chorea

Overview and Facts about Chorea

Chorea is an involuntary movement disorder. People with chorea often twitch, fidget, slouch, or stick out their tongue. Some people with chorea also have trouble swallowing, speaking, or walking.

Chorea is often caused by genetic diseases like Huntington’s disease. It can also result from a bacterial infection like rheumatic fever. More rarely, chorea can sometimes be a side effect of certain prescription medications.

Signs and Symptoms of Chorea

Depending on its cause, chorea may be mild or severe. Some people with chorea have only mild trouble with writing or other fine motor tasks.

Mild cases of chorea are sometimes mistaken for general restlessness or fidgeting, but severe chorea can involve flailing movements or an inability to walk.

Symptoms of chorea may include:

  • Clumsiness
  • Difficulty walking
  • Difficulty writing
  • Involuntary facial expressions
  • Muscle twitching
  • Muscle weakness
  • Poor muscle tone
  • Slurred speech

Children with chorea may seem clumsy, restless, or hyperactive. Many children with chorea are first diagnosed with developmental disorders like ADHD.

Chorea symptoms can develop suddenly or gradually. If chorea is caused by an infection, symptoms usually appear without warning. In contrast, chorea linked to genetic disorders like Huntington’s disease often develops slowly.

Causes and Risk Factors of Chorea

Chorea is often linked to Huntington’s disease, which is a progressive genetic condition whose symptoms usually appear around age 40, although some types of Huntington’s disease can also develop during childhood.

Children and adolescents can also develop a type of chorea known as Sydenham's chorea, which is caused by streptococcal infections like strep throat.

Chorea can sometimes be a side effect of certain prescription medications or a symptom of some metabolic and endocrine disorders. In rare cases, chorea can be caused by pregnancy or a stroke.

Tests and Diagnosis of Chorea

If you or your child have symptoms of chorea, your doctor may order several tests to determine the cause. Blood tests or throat swabs can check for infections like strep throat while also screening for genetic mutations like Huntington’s disease.

In some cases, your doctor may refer you to a specialist in neurology (neurologist) for further testing. A neurologist can perform specialized tests to check for problems that may affect your brain, spinal cord, or nerves.

If you recently started a new medication, your doctor may alter your dosage to see if your chorea symptoms improve. It’s important to take your medicine exactly as prescribed. Don't stop taking a medication or change the dosage without your doctor’s permission.

Treatment and Care for Chorea

Treatment for chorea depends on which condition is causing your symptoms. Some genetic disorders, like Huntington’s disease, are incurable. These conditions always worsen over time. But other causes of chorea, such as infections, can be cured with medication.

If your chorea is incurable, there are still treatments that can help manage your symptoms. Prescription medications can often provide some relief. Occupational or physical therapy can also help you improve muscle control and coordination.