Huntington's Disease was first recognised as an inherited disorder in 1872 when a 22-year-old American doctor, George Huntington, wrote a paper called On Chorea. His paper was later published in the Medical and Surgical Reporter of Philadelphia and the disorder he described became known as Huntington's Chorea.
"Chorea" comes from the Latin and Greek words meaning chorus or a group of dances. The term was given to many so-called "dancing disorders" that became noticed in the Middle Ages.
In those days, people with chorea, like the involuntary muscle jerks and twitches characteristic of HD, were often thought to be possessed by devils. It is believed that at least one of the alleged "witches" executed in Salem, Massachusetts in the 1690's had HD.
Today the term Huntington's (or Huntington) Disease is more commonly used than Huntington's Chorea.
Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, chronic adult hereditary chorea was poorly understood because people who had the HD gene died before the symptoms could develop. Now that we live longer, the HD gene has more time to express itself.
The discovery of the gene in 1993 was a major milestone in the history of HD. The scientific community worked very hard to find the gene and the process was long and tedious, requiring great patience and perseverance. Nevertheless the job is not over until an effective treatment is found. The scientists working on HD today are brilliant and passionately committed to finding a cure. It's hoped that one day researchers will find the answer to the puzzle of HD and support groups like this Association will no longer have to exist.
Until then, support groups worldwide will continue to raise money for research, support services and an improved awareness and understanding of HD in the wider community.
[This page is based on the Association's publication Huntington's Disease. Originally written by Dennis H. Phillips, Ph.D. and first published in 1981, it has been frequently revised and republished since then. The current edition was published in 2001. (Australian Huntington's Disease Association (NSW) Inc.Huntington's Disease West Ryde, 2001.)]