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Britain's Tourette's Mystery: Scarlett Moffatt Investigates highlights specialist neurology service

Posted on Tuesday 19th July 2022
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Dr Tammy Hedderly and Scarlett Moffatt

A specialist service at Evelina London Children’s Hospital has been highlighted in a documentary on Channel 4. The programme Britain’s Tourette’s Mystery: Scarlett Moffatt Investigates explores the rise in children and teenagers being diagnosed with Tourette’s or tic conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Clinicians at Evelina London Children’s Hospital have identified that they diagnosed an increased number of children with tic-like behaviour during the pandemic. Tics are quick movements that result in involuntary, sudden body jolts or sounds.

Prior to the pandemic, our specialist clinic would receive four to six referrals per year for severe and sudden tics in teenage girls. Towards the end of 2020, the clinic was receiving three to four referrals a week.

The expert team found that a group of teenagers, the majority being girls, would suddenly develop sound and movement tics, having previously had no symptoms.

Under further investigation in the clinic, they found a proportion of the young women had been watching videos on social media platforms such as Tik Tok, where users would film themselves showing their different tic symptoms.

Dr Tammy Hedderly, consultant paediatric neurologist, said: “These findings highlighted a major problem for us, with often quite upset families presenting in our clinics. When we talked to these young people and found that often they’d been watching certain videos before their behaviour changed, we realised that these videos were inadvertently reinforcing and maintaining their symptoms. As often tic and tic-like behaviour can increase when watching or hearing similar symptoms.

“We have to focus on the individual young person, as there may be many reasons for the sudden new behaviour, including the impact of the pandemic. We have to consider that these young people may have underlying predispositions that in some cases are triggered by watching influencers with tics or Tourette's on social media.”

During the documentary, Dr Hedderly speaks to presenter Scarlett Moffatt about her research and the increase in referrals to the clinic. She explains how more work needs to be done to educate families on the signs to look out for, and a potential solution would be for clinicians to work alongside social media influencers, to help shape their content so it doesn’t trigger behavioural responses in at risk children and young people.

You can catch up with Dr Hedderly on Britain’s Tourette’s Mystery: Scarlett Moffatt Investigates on Channel 4.