Researchers study TikTok videos as unexplained tics appear in teens

CHICAGO – Cases of unexplained tics developing in young girls after watching TikTok videos have alarmed some. Researchers say it could be triggered by looking at other people with Gilles de la Tourette syndrome or other movement disorders.

The Tourette Center at Johns Hopkins University says 10-20% of pediatric patients exhibit tic-like behavior, which is up 2-3% in the year before the pandemic. Meanwhile, the #Tourettes hashtag on TikTok is approaching 5 billion views.

Just before the start of the pandemic, 14-year-old Iris Keane began to have sudden uncontrollable movements.

“It was hard to wake up one day and not be able to control everything. It’s a little scary, ”she said. “But other than that, it was mostly just one thing.”

After seeing a neurologist, Iris was diagnosed with Gilles de la Tourette syndrome.

“She had also faced issues with depression, anxiety, but nothing that bad,” said Iris’s mother, Alison Keane. “And then, this, the ticking, wasn’t in our family history anywhere that I knew of.”

Around the same time, doctors around the world and here in the United States began to see an increase in the number of teenage girls developing contractions similar to Tourette’s syndrome. The common thread: everyone watched videos of people with tics on TikTok.

“These patients with TikTok tics, they have the most explosive tics in the office, which is quite unusual,” said Dr. Katie Kompoliti, professor of neurology and movement disorders specialist at Rush University Medical Center.

Between March and June of this year, Rush University Medical Center in Chicago saw 20 patients with these tics, more than double the number from the previous year.

Dr Katie Kompoliti and her colleagues at Rush studied the TikTok phenomenon and found that while some may have started to imitate what they were seeing, it spread “spontaneously in the group” without patients being able to control it. . They concluded that this was an example of a “mass sociogenic disease” that can spread consciously or unconsciously.

“The patients I saw at the clinic had real illness. I can’t explain everyone on TikTok and what their intentions were and what their illness was, ”Dr Kompoliti said.

In 2011, 20 high school girls in upstate New York developed motor and verbal tics. It has been attributed to mass hysteria with media attention worsening the symptoms. They ended up calming down.

“Now the mass media is giving it the capacity to become a pandemic. It is no longer confined by locality, ”said Dr Kompoliti.

Dr Michael Rich, director of the Digital Wellness Lab at Boston Children’s Hospital, says the inherent nature of tics is that they are suggestible and that the fact that this happens on TikTok is incidental.

“It could be on YouTube. It could be anywhere. What I think it’s important to recognize is that it only affects a subset of people, mostly teenage girls, ”Dr Rich said. “Is TikTok responsible for this?” It makes me wonder a little. I mean, are we shooting the messenger instead of looking at the message? “

Since the news broke, it looks like some videos featuring twitching and uncontrolled physical movement can be reported, although TikTok has not acknowledged it.

Still, the platform seems to remain somewhat skeptical in acknowledging that while there may be a correlation, a definitive causal relationship has yet to be established.

“The safety and well-being of our community is our priority, and we are consulting with industry experts to better understand this specific experience,” a TikTok spokesperson wrote in a statement.

Experts say it’s important to note that other factors like depression and stress pre-existed in those affected.

“It reminded me a bit of Iris, but it was pretty extreme,” said Alison Keane. “And so, I asked him, ‘Iris, did you see all this?’ And she said, ‘I can’t really look at them because they make me wince even more.’ “

Although Iris hasn’t watched the videos and doesn’t think her condition is related, she avoids them and doesn’t post clips of her own tics.

“Some kids want that, and they want the attention that comes with it,” Iris said. “And so, I try not to post too much on at least on TikTok.”

Doctors say it’s important to watch for any unusual changes.

“I think you have to be smart and vigilant and watch what your kids are doing and what they see there,” Dr Kompoliti said.

And understand that what they see could trigger tics in a subset of young people.

John C. Dent

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