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Doctors Report Increase in Tic Disorders in Teens

Cook Children's pediatric neurologist describes the functional tic disorder phenomenon among teens and whether social media may partially be to blame

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There's concern about a new trend that is baffling doctors and is possibly fueled by social media.

Dr. Zelime Elibol, director of the Children's Tourette Syndrome Clinic at Cook Children's Medical Center in Fort Worth, said she's seen an increase in young teenage girls with no history of a tic disorder coming to her clinic with uncontrollable physical and verbal tics.

It's a real functional tic disorder, but it's not Tourette Syndrome, which is a neurological movement disorder that typically affects more boys than girls and starts at a young age.

"Teenage girls that we're seeing are having really severe tic attacks that involve the entire body," said Elibol.

They're symptoms that could be triggered by repeatedly watching social media videos of others displaying tics and while the exact cause is unknown Elibol said it could affect young people already living with anxiety and depression, which afflicts more young girls than young boys.

One study that dove into the trend found pandemic stress and social media could be fueling the trend.

"So if we're developing more functional neurologic symptoms or physical symptoms, and you're watching social media, what you're seeing on social media are tics, it makes sense that that is, perhaps, going to be the most common physical manifestation of the stress that's coming out right now," said Elibol.

The problem, she said, isn't related to a neurological structure abnormality, or "hardware problem" with the brain.

There's no quick fix, but therapy can help.

"I do think it's important for doctors, and schools, to realize that these children aren't faking it and they're not crazy," said Elibol. "There is something going on, we just have to get to the bottom of it."

She writes more in her Cook Children's blog post, found here.

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