Teenage girls across the world have been seeking medical help for unexplained physical tics - and experts now believe the use of TikTok is to blame.
At first, movement-disorder doctors struggled to explain the rise in those seeking treatment for strange physical jerking movements that had become prevalent in adolescent patients over the last few years.
After months of studying their patients and consulting with each other, experts at top paediatric hospitals in the U.S., Canada, Australia, and the U.K. discovered that most of the girls who were exhibiting tics had something in common - the use of TikTok.
Doctors reported that the girls had been watching videos of TikTok influencers who claimed to have Tourette's syndrome, a nervous-system disorder that causes people to make repetitive, involuntary movements or sounds. Paediatric movement-disorder centres across the U.S. have noticed an influx of teen girls with similar tics too.
Donald Gilbert, a neurologist at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center who specialises in such medical problems, told The Wall Street Journal he has seen about 10 new teens with tics a month since March 2020, compared to one a month before.
Since March 2020, Texas Children's Hospital has reported seeing around 60 teens with such tics, compared to one or two a year before the Covid-19 pandemic, while staff the Johns Hopkins University Tourette's Center state that 10 to 20 per cent of paediatric patients have described acute-onset tic-like behaviours, up from two to three per cent a year before the pandemic.
Doctors in the U.K. began looking into the issue in January, finding videos containing the hashtag #tourettes had about 1.25 billion views, a number that has since grown fourfold - but some have said the social media app may be an exacerbating rather than a causal factor.
"There are some kids who watch social media and develop tics and some who don't have any access to social media and develop tics," said Dr. Joseph McGuire of John Hopkins. "I think there are a lot of contributing factors, including anxiety, depression, and stress."
A TikTok spokesperson confirmed they are looking into the phenomenon.