TikTok might have worrying side effect on teenage girls, say doctors

A potential TikTok side effect has been suggested by doctors as they see a worrying uptake in specialist treatment

TikTok might have worrying side effect on teenage girls, according to medical report—Teenage girl with mobile phone filming female friends dancing against in living room
(Image credit: Maskot/Getty Images)

TikTok may have a worrying side effect on teenage girls, according to doctors, who've noticed an increase in patients showing up at their offices with tics. The rise in these sudden, severe physical tics among teenage girls has been associated with social media—because many had been watching Tourette syndrome TikTok videos.

Despite social media being a relatively new concept, it's becoming increasingly apparent that it can have toxic effects on its users. For example, recently a Facebook whistleblower revealed that 'eating disorder content' is targeted at teenage girls to 'make them use the site more.' 

Facebook isn't alone in terms of bad press with social media platforms like Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok often criticized. However, it's the latter who movement-disorder doctors believe may be responsible for the surge in tics among teenage girls.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the increase began at the start of the pandemic and was notable as girls with tics are rare. Not only that but these teens had an unusually high number of tics, which had developed seemingly out of the blue. 

As the rising numbers reported were happening all over the world, experts at top pediatric hospitals in countries including Germany, the UK, US, Australia, and Canada compared notes. After months studying their patients and various correlations, they found that these girls had one thing in common—TikTok.

A report published in the BMJ in the UK, claims that videos captioned #tourettes posted to TikTok have approximately 4.8B views—a shocking rise from 1.25B in January, 2021.

"Some teenage girls report increased consumption of such videos prior to symptom onset, while others have posted videos and information about their movements and sounds on social media sites," says the report. 

"They report that they gain peer support, recognition and a sense of belonging from this exposure. This attention and support may be inadvertently reinforcing and maintaining symptoms."

Although it remains to be seen if the link between TikTok and the increase in tics among teenage girls are directly linked, experts believe that the majority of the cases they're seeing aren't actually Tourettes syndrome. 

It's their firm belief that what they're seeing is a functional movement disorder that could have been encouraged by stress and anxiety, which have been exacerbated by the pandemic.

Aoife Hanna
Junior News Editor

Aoife is an Irish journalist and writer with a background in creative writing, comedy, and TV production.

Formerly woman&home's junior news editor and a contributing writer at Bustle, her words can be found in the Metro, Huffpost, Delicious, Imperica and EVOKE.

Her poetry features in the Queer Life, Queer Love anthology.

Outside of work you might bump into her at a garden center, charity shop, yoga studio, lifting heavy weights, or (most likely) supping/eating some sort of delicious drink/meal.