The Drs: Mystery Tic Illness NY High School & Conversion Disorder


The Drs: Tourette Symptoms in Upstate New York

Doctors are baffled by an apparent outbreak of something similar to Tourette’s Syndrome in New York. About 20 teens, mostly girls, in a small town are experiencing tics and fits that came out of nowhere. Activists, including Erin Brockovich, theorize that a railroad chemical spill decades ago near the high school could be to blame.

But doctors have ruled out environmental factors, saying the high school is safe. Despite their tics, grunts, and other symptoms, additional tests found these girls don’t have Tourette’s Syndrome.


Neurosurgeon Dr. Neil Martin joined The Doctors to weigh in on this medical mystery. Dr. Martin said with this type of a cluster of cases, doctors have a responsibility to each individual patient as well as the public health concern.

The Doctors: Mystery Tic Illness

What's causing teen girls to suffer from tics and other uncontrollable symptoms?

The Doctors: Teens Tic Outbreak

Dr. Travis shared potential theories about this mystery. One idea is that it’s an infection associated with Strep Throat, such as Rheumatic Fever, except targeting the brain. Dr. Martin mentioned an associated condition called Sydenham’s Chorea, causing disabling, uncontrolled movements.


“This may be a milder form of it, called Post Acute Autoimmune Neurologic Disorder, due to strep,” he said.

Mystery Illness Theory: Environmental Toxins

Dr. Travis was skeptical that environmental causes could have totally been ruled out. Dr. Jim Sears said the train spill mentioned in the news report resulted in one ton of Cyanide and 45,000 gallons of Trichloroethylene.

Additionally, “parents had noticed an orange ooze coming out of one of the fields” at the high school, Dr. Jim said.

Mystery Illness Theory: Conversion Disorder

Dr. Travis said Conversion Disorder used to be better known as Mass Hysteria, and it causes sufferers to subconsciously display neurologic symptoms, with no underlying cause. Dr. Martin said the power of suggestion is very real.

Dr. Lisa Masterson said women are more susceptible than men to Conversion Disorder and wondered if that could be a factor. Dr. Martin said medical research on Mass Hysteria draws parallels to this case.

The Doctors: Conversion Disorder

Dr. Martin mentioned a North Carolina case in which 10 cheerleaders had an outbreak of similar symptoms in 2002. Symptoms occurred when the friends congregated, mostly during lunch. When the students were separated for the holidays, symptoms began to fade.

Dr. Travis explained that Conversion Disorder is “a diagnosis of exclusion,” a conclusion reached after everything else has been ruled out. Dr. Martin said up to 15% of adolescents will naturally develop a tic during development.

The Doctors: Tic Patient Alycia Nicholson

The first documented victim of the New York outbreak, Alycia Nicholson, came to Los Angeles to be evaluated by Dr. Martin. He performed a variety of tests on Alycia. But before The Doctors announced the test results, Alycia and her father talked about how this has affected their lives.

Alycia experienced her first symptoms while playing softball and eventually began convulsing on the field. She had a second bout of seizures the next day. She has lost weight and continues to struggle with symptoms.

During her taped interview with a producer, she began to experience tics and her father feared she could pass out. They are anxious to hear the results of Dr. Martin’s evaluation.



  1. Cat says

    I was actually wondering about Sydenham’s Chorea. I had it when I was 14/15 after a strep infection wasn’t treated fully.

  2. says

    Has anyone looked into possible drug use as the cause? Some of the symptoms of drug use are stress related. For example paranoia, dimentia etc..Most likely it is stress related and/or drug induced. Another possible theory could be something visual occuring in the environment or even sound related. Ive only read a little about this case but it would have to be something common to all. But I would definitelly begin with extensive drug testing to rule that out. Related to visual another theory I have could be exposure to some sort of strobe light pattern in conjunction with sound. Could be they all went to the same dance club where new software light pattern is being used? Either way its genetic, random, or induced. Doesnt seem genetic except for susceptability. Random would also include males. Induced seems most likely because it only affects mostly females. I would also definiely test the
    only male affected possibly for example in addition to drug testing I would also compare blood types of him and the other females involved. I agree with others on here that further testing should be done and by the way convergance disorder is a visual disorder mentioned here. Visual acuity could be the trigger but predisposition would have a common factor. In other words say strobe light was involved a trigger, but only affects females,predisposition. For an anomoly to be spread out even would mean that the anomoly exists everywhere. For an anomoly to occur in a certain area would mean anomoly is unique to that area. I think thats why so much the news attention to this. Another insight to all else is that culture travels from area to area for example a fad might begin in say LA but for example that fad wont reach say Loisiana for example much later. However if it is coincidence or random which is possible then only time will tell.

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