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COVID-19 related increase in childhood tics and tic-like attacks
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  1. Isobel Heyman1,
  2. Holan Liang1,
  3. Tammy Hedderly2
  1. 1 Psychologcial Medicine Team, Great Ormond Street Hospital For Children NHS Foundation Trust, London, UK
  2. 2 Tic and Neurodevelopmental Movements Service (TANDeM), Guy's King's and Saint Thomas' School of Medicine, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Isobel Heyman, Great Ormond Street Hospital For Children NHS Foundation Trust, London WC1N 3JH, UK; i.heyman{at}ucl.ac.uk

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Explosion of tics

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, paediatricians and child mental health practitioners have noticed an increase in tic symptoms in some children and adolescents already diagnosed with tic disorders.1 Interestingly, clinicians have also seen a marked increase in presentations of sudden and new onset of severe tics and ‘tic-like’ attacks.

There is an urgent need to collate systematic data on this group as this is a rare and unusual subtype of tics and Tourette syndrome, differing in age and type of onset and expected patterns of tics. Typically, childhood tics start around 5–7 years and show a waxing and waning course of predominantly motor tics, more commonly affecting boys in a ratio of 4:1. The new surge of referrals consists of adolescent girls with sudden onset of motor and phonic tics of a complex and bizarre nature. In London, UK specialist tic clinics at each of the two children’s hospitals, each centre received four to six referrals per year (out of a total of approximately 200 in 2019/2020), which were acute onset tics in teenage girls. In the last 3 months (end of 2020–January 2021), both centres have been receiving three to four referrals per week of this nature which, if it continues, would amount to 150–200 cases per year and effectively double the referral rate.

Initial impressions are that these adolescent girls fall into two groups: the first present with explosive functional tic-like movements on a background of diagnosis of, or vulnerability to, motor and phonic tics. The second group comprises florid, completely new onset tic-like disorder that appears functional in nature. Both groups may have undiagnosed neurodevelopmental impairment, autism spectrum disorder (ASD), …

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