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Tics in Teens: Doctors see spike related to social media

Posted at 1:04 PM, Nov 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-09 06:35:32-05

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Disruptions during the height of the pandemic affected every part of our lives, and for teenagers, some of those changes will have last impacts. A neurologist at Helen Devos Children's Hospital says he sees teenagers presenting some of that stress in the form of tics.

The phenomenon is being called "Tik Tok Tics." It's a catchy name that grabs your attention, but it's a real-life problem causing stress for West Michigan families.

"The dysfunction is real in real life, this the suffering that it causes is real suffering as positive patients or families is real," said Dr. David Moon, chief of pediatric movement disorders at Helen Devos Children's Hospital.

During the height of the pandemic, Dr. Moon said he started to see an uptick of the same kind of cases in his office.

"The movements can, you know, be sort of simple movements, meaning like, you know, jerking of the head or the neck or, you know, facial movements. Sometimes they can be even, you know, actions where they're hitting themselves, you know, or throwing things," said Moon.

Most seen in teenage girls, the symptoms are sudden and severe

"For pseudo tics, I might diagnose it, you know, every other month, you know, once. During the height of the pandemic, there were times when we're diagnosing it three to five times a week," said Moon.

And there is a common denominator.

"Almost invariably, all the patients have had exposure to Tik Tok, or not Tik Tok to those tic content, or providers who purport to have tics, either through Snapchat or Tik Tok, or Facebook or YouTube, some kind of social media contact with it.

"It is an interesting story, you know, because, you know, Tik Tok and teenagers and tick like behaviors. But I think it's just a one manifestation of like, a broader kind of, it's been a tough couple of years for a lots and lots of people," said Moon.

A pseudo tic could be misdiagnosed as Tourette's syndrome. But those tics are organic and usually diagnosed during early childhood. With therapy, these pseudo tics can vanish in a matter of months.

"Most of the children do get better over time, sometimes very quickly, once they sort of establish that they understand that, okay, there's nothing wrong with my brain, there's nothing wrong with my nervous system," said Moon.

The "Tik Tok Tic" phenomenon is not just a West Michigan problem; the stress response turned physical is rampant across the country.

Moon said luckily, he is diagnosing the problem less and less. But, if you think your child might be experiencing these symptoms, call your pediatrician.

The Movement Disorders Medical Journal said it is seeing more cases across the country, correlated to the popularity of Tic content on social media.