Doctors note increase in movement disorders since pandemic, especially in females

Oct. 27, 2021

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been reports of cases of involuntary movement and vocalizations. The cases typically are reported on social media. Though the causes are unknown, more younger females seem to be affected.

Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt is an example of an organization that has seen an upswing in such cases. The hospital's clinicians typically see a case of functional tics every few months, according to Heather Riordan, MD, associate professor of Child Neurology. Now the team is seeing a few new cases a week.“A large number of teenagers are presenting with abrupt-onset, severe tics,” Riordan said.

“The pattern of the tics suggests that these are part of a functional movement disorder — basically a complex way that the body is expressing stress. While surprising to people who haven’t seen this before, it is akin to getting headaches or gastrointestinal issues related to stress,” Riordan said. 

David Isaacs, MD, MPH, Assistant Professor of Neurology in the Division of Movement Disorders at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, said medical literature on the topic is growing with studies relating to tics.

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