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Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Is Social Media Fueling A Twitching Disorder?

Seventeen teenage girls, a teenage boy and a woman have developed mysterious physical and verbal tics in the small rural community of LeRoy, in upstate New York.

And experts say that social media may be helping to spread the disorder– a number of the afflicted girls created videos of themselves exhibiting symptoms, and posted them online, asking for help with a diagnosis. Experts believe that susceptible individuals who watch the videos online could begin to exhibit symptoms.

What’s Behind The Problem

Dr. David Lichter, a professor of neurology at the University of Buffalo’s School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, has has treated a number of the sufferers, and explained to Here & Now‘s Robin Young how the disorder spreads.

“If you have stress and conflicts and anxieties of your own, and you see people behaving in a certain way, you may be prone to adopting that same physical symptom,” he said.

The syndrome has been diagnosed as a “conversion disorder,” which means that the brain is “actually subconsciously mimicking the twitching felt by others,” Discovery reports.

Dr. Lichter said that all the patients presenting with the disorder have had serious underlying stresses in their lives, which makes an underlying susceptibility to the disorder. But he says that treatment can be effective.

“You provide psychological support, counseling and therapy. And if there are underlying disorders, like depression or anxiety, you might treat those with medications. But the important thing is to make sure that the diagnosis is well understood by the well whole family, not just the patient, but the parent,” he said.

Health officials are researching whether environmental factors might be playing a role, but so far tests have been negative.

Guest:

  • Dr. David Lichter, a professor of neurology at the University of Buffalo’s School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. He has treated a number of the sufferers.

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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