A Brief Prehistory of Huntington’s Disease

Physicians and family members alike have long beencurious about the historical origins of Huntington’sdisease. Despite the fact that families with “heredi-tary chorea” were described in medical literature forthe first time in the 1840s, most authors agree that the genetic abnormality and most likely the panoply of symptoms we know today as Huntington’s disease were present centuries earlier in Europe and the Amer-icas, and probably in other parts of the world as well. Twentieth century medical writers have tried to link modern Huntington’s disease with the great European dance epidemics of the 14th, 15th, and 16th cen-turies known as St. Vitus’s dance or danse de St. Guy.

They have cited as possible precedents the descriptions of chorea Sancti Viti by the Renaissance physician Paracelsus of Basel, the witch trials of the 17th cen-tury in northern Europe and New England, and the accounts of post-rheumatic chorea in children in the late 17th and 18th centuries, written by the Englishphysician Thomas Sydenham and others. 


Source:  IOS Press

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