Symptoms of Saint Vitus Dance disease include rapid, involuntary, purposeless movements in the face, feet and hands, according to the National Organization for Rare Disorders. Other symptoms include muscle weakness or emotional or behavioral problems. The disease is also called Sydenham's chorea, chorea minor, rheumatic chorea or Sydenham's disease, and most commonly affects children and adolescents.
Most people develop Saint Vitus Dance disease following a streptococcal infection or rheumatic fever, and symptoms may appear one to six months after the initial infection. Parents may notice changes in children's handwriting, loss of fine motor control in fingers and hands, and inappropriate, uncontrollable laughing or crying, explains the National Organization for Rare Disorders. People may first experience rapid, uncontrollable movements during times of stress or fatigue, and the condition may only affect one side of the body.
Saint Vitus Dance disease is an autoimmune disorder. The body's immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells in the brain, especially in the basal ganglia, which is the part of the brain that controls motor movements. Individuals may be genetically predisposed to developing this condition following a streptococcal infection or rheumatic fever, states the National Organization for Rare Disorders. Most people affected are between the ages of 5 and 15 in all ethnic groups, especially prepubescent girls, and the condition rarely affects children under 5.