Does pandemic social media use worsen twitch disorder in adolescents? | Health

TUESDAY, March 1, 2022 (HealthDay News) — For reasons that remain unclear, new research warns that a spike in social media use during the pandemic may have worsened tics in children.

Tics are sudden jerks, movements, or sounds that people repeatedly make because they cannot control their bodies.

In the study, 90% of 20 tic patients aged 11 to 21 said they had increased their use of social media during the pandemic. While the frequency of tics was do not seem to increase with social media use, scientists found that more time spent on social media was associated with the onset of more severe tic behaviors.

Still, study author Dr. Jessica Frey stressed that the finding is preliminary. A larger study involving more tic patients is already underway, to better understand exactly what is going on.

“We don’t yet know the ‘why’ of the link ‘between social media and tic severity,'” said Frey, a movement disorder researcher at the University of Florida’s Department of Neurology.

What is known, she said, is that “during the COVID-19 pandemic, social media consumption has increased dramatically, especially among teenagers. [And] Along with the increase in social media consumption, there has also been an increase in the severity of tics and explosive tics.”

So Frey and his colleagues set out to find out if there was a connection between the two.

“Tics most often begin in childhood or adolescence, then improve or completely disappear in adulthood, although up to 20% may continue to have tics in adulthood,” said explained Frey.

According to data from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of American children with Tourette’s syndrome, a nervous tic, is not entirely clear, although estimates suggest that it may affect up to 1 in 162 (0.6%) children.

Children with tics are known to struggle with stigma and bullying, Frey noted, leading to “difficulties in interpersonal relationships, including impaired social, psychological, and intellectual development.”

For the study, all participating teens were asked how much time they spent on social media during the pandemic; how often they had tics; the severity of their tics, and how they perceived their overall quality of life.

About two-thirds said they use social media between four and five times a day, an average of 5.6 hours a day. More than 85% said their tic behavior had increased since the start of the pandemic, while half said they thought using social media worsened the nature of their tics.

While tic frequency was not related to time spent on social media, tic severity was.

This could be partly explained by a recent increase in the number of videos posted on social media that seek to demonstrate tic behavior, Frey noted. In turn, this could possibly “lead to an unintended reinforcement of tic-like behavior in people watching the videos.”

This possibility was echoed by Dr. Naomi Lubarr, assistant clinical professor of neurology and pediatrics at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York.

But Lubarr, who was not involved in the study, added that it’s not entirely clear whether social media use directly worsens tic behavior.

Instead, it could be that increased social media use during the pandemic is simply overlapping with other mental health issues, Lubarr said, such as “increased stress/ anxiety, in-person school closure, [and] changes to normal routine and activities.

However, Frey reiterated that “we don’t yet know for sure why this potential link exists. [But] we hope to explore beliefs about tics, where patients and parents get information about tics, and more details about social media use in a larger follow-up study.”

Frey presented the findings Monday at a meeting of the American Academy of Neurology in Seattle. Such research is considered preliminary until it is published in a peer-reviewed journal.

More information

There is more on tic disorders at the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.

SOURCES: Jessica Frey, MD, Jr. Movement Disorders Fellow, Department of Neurology-Movement Disorder, University of Florida, Gainesville, and Fellow, American Academy of Neurology; Naomi Lubarr, MD, assistant clinical professor, neurology and pediatrics, Mount Sinai Hospital, New York City; American Academy of Neurology Annual Meeting, Seattle, Presentation, February 28, 2022

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