Tourette syndrome: Tics may be linked to Covid stress – new scan to reveal ‘root causes’

TikTok user with Tourette’s Syndrome sings Watermelon Sugar

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Since 2020, various medical staff have noted an increase in Tourette syndrome (TS) symptoms among young people. The Tourette Association reported a “surge” in tics in people with TS – also called Tourette’s syndrome – as well as “what appears to be a potentially related type of movement disorder among youth that involves tic-like behaviours”. It suggests, “one factor is a rise in anxiety, mood symptoms, and psychosocial stress throughout the COVID-19 pandemic”.

However, others have hypothesised it is linked to crowd psychology.

One study by the University of Calgary concludes: “Rapid onset tic-like behaviours are a distinct subtype of functional neurological disorder that has emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic in young people and appears to be strongly socially influenced.”

But one expert has said new brain scans that pick up electrical impulses could reveal the truth.

Speaking exclusively to, Nannette Mellor – the chief executive officer of The Brain Charity – said: “It has been widely reported more young people are experiencing tics and being diagnosed with Tourette syndrome.

“Previously, there has been a tunnel vision view of what Tourette syndrome is, involving things like verbal tics such as swearing.

“We’re now starting to understand Tourette can also cause physical symptoms and affect all sorts of different behaviours.

“Symptoms range from mild and unnoticeable to very severe and debilitating.

“It is believed there may be a genetic link to Tourette syndrome, meaning some people with a particular gene are more likely to experience it, but the gene itself is not necessarily the cause.

“It could also be caused by a virus which interrupts the brain’s electrical pathways, but more research is needed.”

She explained: “COVID-19 has certainly caused increased stress for young people, and also is known to affect the brain.

“This could have caused a knock-on effect meaning people who were already more genetically predisposed to experiencing Tourette syndrome have now developed tics.

“Social media has also been blamed in reports, but we believe the use of social media is a positive thing in enabling young people to talk about and recognise their own symptoms and experiences, seek help and reduce stigma.”

Nanette was hopeful about the future of understanding TS.

“Previously, when doctors and scientists haven’t been able to physically see a problem with the brain, conditions like Tourette syndrome have been put down to psychosocial factors like the ones listed above,” she added.

“New types of brain scan show electrical impulses which can pick up differences in how neurons are talking to each other, even if traditional scans don’t show psychological damage.

“With these scans, we expect medical professionals to be able to diagnose and treat Tourette syndrome in different ways.

“But it’s important not to make any conclusions at this point, because the tools to see what’s happening in the brain are still being developed.”

TS is a condition that causes a person to make involuntary sounds and movements called tics, that usually starts during childhood.

People with TS have a combination of physical and vocal tics.

Examples of physical tics include:

  • Blinking
  • Eye rolling
  • Grimacing
  • Shoulder shrugging
  • Jerking of the head or limbs
  • Jumping.

Vocal tics can include grunting, throat clearing, whistling, tongue clicking and saying random words and phrases.

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