Doctors Say the Rise in Tic-Like Behaviors Among Teen Girls May Be Connected to TikTok

·3 min read
Young Woman Using Smart Phone
Young Woman Using Smart Phone

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Doctors around the world are seeing a rise in cases of tic-like behaviors in teen girls, which they believe could be caused by watching TikTok videos about Tourette syndrome.

Pediatric hospitals have reported an increase in teen girls coming in after developing tics, sudden twitches or noises that are a common symptom of Tourette syndrome, during the pandemic. The sudden rise is unusual, with tics typically occurring in boys, not girls.

Experts in the U.S., Canada, the U.K. and Australia studied the patients for months and consulted between hospitals, finding that the common factor between the girls was an interest in watching TikTok videos from influencers who said they have Tourette syndrome, The Wall Street Journal reported.

According to the outlet, Texas Children's Hospital said they've had around 60 teens come in with tics since March 2020, compared to just one or two a year before then, while at Johns Hopkins University Tourette's Center, the number of patients reporting tic-like behaviors has jumped from 2 to 3% a year to 10 to 20%. And Rush University Medical Center in Chicago had 20 patients with tics over just four months this year, compared to 10 all of last year.

Researchers from pediatric hospitals around the world found that referrals for tic-like behaviors soared during the pandemic, especially in girls aged 12 to 25, they wrote in a study published in August in the journal Movement Disorders. Since March 2020, referrals in the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Germany and Australia went from 1 to 2% to 20 to 35%.

The researchers wrote that they've seen a "similarity between the tics or tic-like behaviors shown on social media and the tic-like behaviors of this group of patients."

Another report, from doctors at Rush University Medical Center, looked at TikTok videos hashtagged with "tic," "Tourette" and "tourettes," and wrote that they "believe this to be an example of mass sociogenic illness," where people are copying the behaviors they see in the videos. The doctors called the Tourette-focused TikToks "a pandemic within a pandemic."

One expert at Rush, Caroline Olvera, a movement-disorders fellow, told the Journal that a number of teen girls had a tic that would cause them to say "beans," sometimes in a British accent, even if they didn't speak English. Olvera started watching Tourette-focused videos on TikTok, and discovered that a top Tourette influencer was British and would often say "beans."

Doctors told the Journal that the teen girls likely aren't developing Tourette syndrome, but a functional movement disorder that can be addressed with therapy. They also found that many of the teens had also been previously diagnosed with anxiety or depression, which had intensified during the pandemic.

They recommended to the outlet that parents who are seeing these tic-like behaviors in their teens should have them take a social media break or block Tourette videos on their TikTok account. Parents should also resist overreacting, and try to help their kids maintain a normal routine.

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