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Why your teen is experiencing physical tics (and no, it’s not just because of TikTok)

Teens have reported physical issues. It might be linked to TikTok

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A teenager rest safter getting a shot a coronavirus vaccine.

Joonas Leis, 12, center, and his father, Kuldar, rest after getting a shot a coronavirus vaccine at a vaccination center in Estonia’s second largest city, Tartu, Thursday, July 29, 2021.

Raul Mee, Associated Press

Alex Turnquist left her dorm at Loyola University Chicago in spring 2020, just as the coronavirus pandemic began.

She moved back in with her parents. The pandemic pushed her out of college. So she went home, relaxed and watched videos of herself from Snapchat.

In those videos, she saw her eye twitch. Her head would shake. Her body would jerk.

According to Vice News, Turnquist told her psychiatrist about the issues. It took an entire year, but she was eventually diagnosed with a tic disorder. And she doesn’t know what caused it.

But Turnquist isn’t alone with this issue. Teenagers across the world have been turning up to doctors' offices with sudden and severe physical tics, and experts believe TikTok might be to blame.

Per The Wall Street Journal, specialists noticed that teens are visiting doctors' offices with physical tics, many of which might be tied to TikTok. In fact, the teenage girls who reported the tics had recently been watching videos on TikTok that showed people with Tourette syndrome.

The teens would have “physical jerking movements and verbal outbursts,” which were considered rare among young girls, per The Wall Street Journal.

“And so doctors started putting two and two together and realizing that the tics that these girls in their offices were showing were not only similar to one another, but very similar to the tics that people on TikTok were displaying,” the article’s author, The Wall Street Journal’s Julie Jargon, told BuzzFeed News.

Of course, not all experts agree with this idea. The pandemic created stress and anxiety among people. The rising number of girls with tics may not be associated with more TikTok videos but increased anxiety.

Indeed, doctors who specialize in Tourette syndrome and other tic disorders saw referrals jump from 1% to 5% before the pandemic to 20% to 35% after the pandemic, according to recent data. There has already been a bunch of research about how COVID-19 has led to an increase in these childhood tics and tic-like attacks, too.

This might be tied to anxiety and stress created by the pandemic. The coronavirus pandemic isn’t exactly a common experience. People have been through post-traumatic stress associated with the beginning of the pandemic.

“And anytime there are high levels of anxiety and depression, those kinds of underlying conditions can cause things like tics,” Jargon, told BuzzFeed News. “And that’s what some doctors are saying, that it might be more to do with that. But according to others, these girls with tics that are similar to those seen on TikTok also have underlying anxiety and depression and other mental health issues that were either brought on by or exacerbated by the pandemic.”

Stopping these symptoms can be difficult. Neurologist Tamara Pringsheim, who works at the University of Calgary in Canada, told Vice News that the trend is “an epidemic within the pandemic” and has left people in danger.

“Sometimes it’s a tough conversation, saying, ‘I don’t think you have Tourette syndrome, I think you have these functional tic-like behaviors that have likely been triggered by the distress of the pandemic’ — there’s some resistance or disappointment,” she said. 

Anyone experiencing tics should be considered for serious treatment. It’s not an easy fix, and it’s an issue that should be taken seriously among the medical community and families, said Davide Martino, a neurologist at the University of Calgary in Canada, according to Vice News.

“They cannot stop, and we have absolutely witnessed that,” he said. “Some of the patients and families we talk to are desperate; we need compassion and commitment to try and help them.”