By Sharon Jayson
But the mysterious symptoms of facial tics and verbal outbursts afflicting 12 teenage girls in the small community of LeRoy, N.Y., has brought new awareness to a very unfamiliar stress-related condition referred to as "conversion disorder."
Conversion disorder is characterized by problems with voluntary motor or sensory function that suggest a neurological or other general medical condition but aren't fully consistent with known biological causes or explanations, says David Fassler, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at the University of Vermont in Burlington. He says such outbreaks are more common in women and are associated with stress or anxiety. The girls began exhibiting symptoms last fall.
Neurologist Laszlo Mechtler of the Dent Neurologic Institute in Buffalo, who has treated all but one of the 12 girls, says tests have ruled out medical disorders, diseases and environmental factors. "These young ladies are individuals who come from a small community. One may have had a significant symptom, and it was like a wildfire."