USA Today: Can TikTok trigger 'tics' in teens? Here's what doctors said
By Amanda Perez Pintado
Since the onset of the pandemic, specialists around the globe have seen a spike in young patients that have developed tics. And some have pointed to social media, particularly TikTok, as a factor.
Last August, doctors in the United States, Canada, Germany, Australia and the United Kingdom reported an increase of patients, mostly girls and women aged 12 to 25, who had suddenly developed physical and verbal "tic-like behaviors" since the onset of the pandemic.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analyzed emergency room data and released a report in February that noted an increase in tics among teen girls during the pandemic. For girls between 12 to 17 years old, emergency room visits for tic disorders nearly tripled as of January.
Some researchers have described the sudden increase in tics as a "pandemic within a pandemic," noting that they are distinct from tics seen in people with Tourette syndrome.
But social media isn't all to blame and what specialists are seeing isn't new, said Dr. Julio Quezada, a pediatric neurologist at Children's Mercy in Kansas City, Missouri.
"What we're seeing is an increase in what's known as tic-like phenomena, not tics," Quezada said. "There's been an increase that was more noticeable during the pandemic, but it's not a new thing. It's something that we've seen for a long time."
Tourette syndrome is a nervous system disorder that causes people to have tics. The condition typically affects boys, and symptoms usually start in early childhood and peak during adolescence, when tics start to decrease in most cases.
Most tics in people with Tourette syndrome tend to be subtle, whereas some videos on social media portray "dramatic movements" that highlight rare behaviors, said Dr. Keith Coffman, director of Children's Mercy Tourette Syndrome Center of Excellence.
"Individuals will slap things, hit things," Coffman said. "When they vocalize, they'll vocalize words. They may have very long phrases of words, and many of the vocalizations in these videos have really high levels of utterances of profanity, which is exceptionally rare in individuals with Tourette."
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Learn more about the Tourette Syndrome Center of Excellence at Children's Mercy