Doctor: Teens' mystery illness not a hoax
Three more teenagers at an Upstate New York town have been diagnosed with a mysterious ticking and twitching. Doctors say it could be psychological.
Citizens demanded answers at Le Roy Central High School in Le Roy, N.Y., this past Saturday - the school where last fall a group of teenage girls started reporting mysterious fits of involuntary twitching.
With three new cases reported just this week, anxiety is growing.
Dr. Laszlo Mechtler is a neurologist at DENT Neurologic Institute in Buffalo, N.Y. He sat down with CBS News to explain his diagnosis: Conversion disorder.
"Conversion disorder is real symptoms - such as loss of vision, paralysis, or in this case, movement disorder, tics - but as a neurologist examines a person, there is nothing wrong with the brain function," Dr,. Mechtler said. In essence, symptoms without a cause.
Dr. Mechtler has treated 14 of the 18 reported cases. He explains that even though an MRI wouldn't show it, stress can trigger real physical ailments, like migraines and stomach ulcers.
"When you're with these patients, what are you seeing?" asked correspondent Seth Doane.
"Girls who are scared, girls who want an answer," he replied, "and girls who will get better."
"Will get better? Why are you so confident?"
"Because once things 'settle down,' I think you will see improvement," Dr. Mechtler said.
But many others in town aren't so sure, and have demanded more soil and water testing from the site of a chemical spill in the early 1970s.
"I don't think that the toxic spill triggered these symptoms," Dr. Mechtler said. "Mainly because many of the patients are improving, and if it was from toxicity, from something in this soil, then that would have caused brain injury, to cause these symptoms. That's just not the case."
He also believes the disorder is real: "I really feel that most of these girls unequivocally have a movement disorder that is not a hoax."
There is also the concern that social media use among the teenagers, if not the cause, may act as a trigger, making matters worse.
On "CBS This Morning," medical correspondent Dr. Jon LaPook said, "We have no idea how things will be affected by social media. Back at the end of the 1600s when you had the Salem witch trials, it stayed in Massachusetts. But now you have it traveling all over the world - what do you do?"
But Dr. LaPook confirmed that conversion disorder is real: "I've seen it many times in the emergency room where [patients] come in with sensation problems and it just doesn't make sense neurologically, and it ends up being conversion disorder.
"It's real. Just because we can't find something on an MRI doesn't mean that it's not real. By the way, the idea that they say there's nothing neurological going on, well, there is. All of psychology is neurological. We just don't understand the neurobiology, the wiring that makes us neurotic or makes us have schizophrenia or bipolar. That doesn't mean that it's not ultimately coming from the brain.
"Very often there's comorbid conditions, meaning in plain English there's other things going on," said Dr. La Pook. "There's anxiety, there's depression. But these are real."
But Dr. La Pook warned against the diagnosis of conversion disorder in this case might hamper other patients: "I worry that eventually somebody's going to come in with someone else. You don't want [with] every neurological problem to say, 'Well, this is a conversion disorder." You have to always start with a blank slate and say what could this be, and then keep an open mind."
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