A dozen western New York high school girls have developed involuntary tics and other symptoms, and a doctor said Friday that at least 10 of them are suffering from a psychological condition usually brought on by stress or a frightening condition.
Parents became concerned there might have been environmental contamination or an infection at LeRoy High School when the girls all started showing symptoms like unexplained pain and involuntary muscle motion last fall.
But air quality and other tests conducted by local health officials ruled out mold, chemicals and other sources of the girls' problems.
That helped Dr. Laszlo Mechtler and another neurologist treating 10 of the girls conclude that the cause is conversion disorder, a condition that causes real symptoms but has no physical cause.
It's diagnosed, he said, when physical examinations, lab tests and scans, including the brain, reveal no organic problem behind symptoms that include vocal and physical tics, seizures, passing out, headaches and anxiety.
Mechtler likened it to the dizziness, vomiting and aches of an actor with stage fright.
"The physical symptoms they're having are real. The patient isn't faking it," he said.
He said conversion disorder is common, especially in adolescent girls, and treated successfully with a mix of psychotherapy, behavioral changes and medications.
That's working for the girls being seen by Mechtler and Dr. Jennifer McVige at the DENT Neurologic Institute outside of Buffalo.
"Most of them are improving," Mecthler said. "Some of them are back in school."
What's unusual, Mechtler said, is the grouping of cases _ known as "mass psychogenic illness" _ in LeRoy, a town between Rochester and Buffalo.
MPI has been documented for hundreds of years, he said, mostly occurring in small groups of people living or working in a defined area.
It isn't clear what triggered symptoms in the LeRoy students.
"Some of them were friends, some played on the same soccer team and all are in the same high school," Mechtler said.
He said his office would like to examine the two girls they haven't seen to determine if they, too, suffer from conversion disorder.
Groups of cases often start with one individual, Mechtler said, so it's possible one of those girls has a condition like Tourette's and her tics were subconsciously picked up by other girls.
Regardless of the cause, he said, the girls' suffering is real and he considers it unlikely any are faking to get attention or to get out of school, something that has happened in other cases of what used to be called hysterical neurosis.
"This is not mass hysteria," he said. "These are young ladies with real symptoms."