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Overview of chorea

Oksana Suchowersky, MD, FRCPC, FCCMG
Manon Bouchard, MD, FRCPC
Section Editor
Howard I Hurtig, MD
Deputy Editor
John F Dashe, MD, PhD


The word chorea is derived from the Latin choreus, meaning "dance." Chorea is a hyperkinetic movement disorder characterized by involuntary brief, random, and irregular contractions conveying a feeling of restlessness to the observer [1]. Chorea may be caused by hereditary neurodegenerative diseases, follow structural damage to deep brain structures, or be associated with autoimmune disorders, metabolic derangement, or certain drugs and hormones. Investigation is oriented at searching for a secondary or reversible cause of chorea or confirming a hereditary condition with genetic testing. Although the chorea arriving from acquired conditions may be reversed, there is usually no specific therapy for hereditary neurodegenerative disorders. Symptomatic treatment can reduce abnormal movements regardless of the cause.

This topic will provide an overview of the various types of chorea.


Chorea, athetosis, and ballism frequently coexist in the same patient and are felt to be part of the same choreiform spectrum [2,3].

Chorea is a hyperkinetic movement disorder characterized by rapid and unpredictable contractions affecting mostly distal limbs, but also the face and trunk. The movements are involuntary and nonpatterned with variable speed, timing, and direction, flowing from one body part to another and giving, in less severe cases, an appearance of fidgetiness. The unpredictable nature of chorea is a feature that distinguishes it from tremor and dystonia [1].

Athetosis refers to slower, writhing movements with a sinuous quality. The term choreoathetosis is used when typical choreic movements coexist with athetosis.


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Literature review current through: Sep 2016. | This topic last updated: May 12, 2015.
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