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What is chorea?

Chorea is a movement disorder that causes sudden, unintended, and uncontrollable jerky movements of the arms, legs, and facial muscles. Chorea is seen in many diseases and conditions and is caused by an overactivity of the chemical dopamine in the areas of the brain that control movement.

The involuntary, irregular, and unpredictable movements make it appear as if the affected person is dancing, twisting, restless, clumsy, or fidgety. However, the movements may look different within various diseases, often get worse when the person is stressed or anxious and disappear when sleeping.

Chorea is usually a symptom of another disorder, such as Huntington's disease, and can be induced in rheumatic fever complications, known as Sydenham's chorea, by other disorders, certain medicines (including levodopa or some antiseizure or antipsychotic drugs), metabolic and endocrine disorders such as hyperthyroidism, or vascular diseases. It can also occur on its own or be inherited.

In addition to dance-like movements, signs and symptoms of chorea may include:

  • Alternating squeezing and releasing of the fingers when trying to shake someone's hand (known as "Milkmaid's grip")
  • Tongue moving in and out of the mouth (known as "Jack-in-the-Box tongue")
  • Headaches and seizures in children with rheumatic fever

People at increased risk of chorea are those with a family history of Huntington's disease, those with autoimmune diseases such as lupus or certain metabolic disorders, someone who has had a stroke near the movement center in the brain, and children with rheumatic fever.

Chorea by itself is not life-threatening. The prognosis for someone with chorea varies depending on the associated disease. Treatment may involve the use of drugs that block dopamine. For disorders such as Sydenham's chorea, treatment includes antibiotic drugs and drug therapy.

Learn About Clinical Trials
Clinical trials are studies that allow us to learn more about disorders and improve care. They can help connect patients with new and upcoming treatment options.

How can I or my loved one help improve care for people with chorea?

Consider participating in a clinical trial so clinicians and scientists can learn more about chorea and other movement disorders. Clinical research uses human volunteers to help researchers learn more about a disorder and perhaps find better ways to safely detect, treat, or prevent disease.

All types of volunteers are needed—those who are healthy or may have an illness or disease—of all different ages, sexes, races, and ethnicities to ensure that study results apply to as many people as possible, and that treatments will be safe and effective for everyone who will use them.

For information about participating in clinical research visit NIH Clinical Research Trials and You. Learn about clinical trials currently looking for people with chorea at, a database of current and past clinical studies and research results.

Where can I find more information about chorea?

Information about chorea and associated diseases may be available through the following organizations and resources:

Order publications from the NINDS Catalog
The NINDS Publication Catalog offers printed materials on neurological disorders for patients, health professionals, and the general public. All materials are free of charge, and a downloadable PDF version is also available for most publications.