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March 1969

Sydenham's Chorea

Author Affiliations

Durham, NC
From the Divisions of Neurosurgery and Neurology, Duke University Medical Center and the Durham Veterans Administration Hospital, Durham, NC.

Arch Neurol. 1969;20(3):330-331. doi:10.1001/archneur.1969.00480090118016

RHEUMATIC chorea is named for Thomas Sydenham, who first described this disorder and mistakenly called it St. Vitus's dance.

St. Vitus's dance was actually an entirely separate phenomenon. During the Middle Ages, in a setting of widespread religious mysticism, ignorance, and superstition, mass outbreaks of wild emotional dancing occurred throughout Europe. The victims were frequently brought to the chapels of St. Vitus, a Sicilian boy who had been martyred in the year 303 during the persecution of the Christians by Diocletian. St. Vitus thus became the patron saint of those afflicted with the dancing mania.1

.... So early as the year 1374, assemblages of men and women were seen at Aix-la-Chapelle who had come out of Germany, and who, united by one common delusion, exhibited to the public both in the streets and in the churches the following strange spectacle.... They formed circles hand in hand, and appearing

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