SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Local News

January 30, 2013

Two schools of thought on unexplained hiccups

DANVERS — With more than a dozen students reportedly exhibiting unexplained vocal tics or hiccups at Essex Agricultural and Technical High School, some look to a psychiatric cause called mass psychogenic illness that can be related to stress. Others say it could be a rare case of a strep infection leading to an autoimmune reaction.

Local and state health officials have declined to speculate but are investigating. School officials are cooperating with experts in trying to find a cause, and Danvers Public Health Director Peter Mirandi has said he has no confirmed cases.

Dr. Edward Hart, a pediatric neurologist at North Shore Medical Center, has not examined any of the students at the approximately 450-student agricultural and vocational school, but said it appears that “mass hysteria or conversion disorder” may be at work.

It was the same diagnosis of the doctor who examined a group of high school girls at Le Roy High School in upstate New York last year who came down with debilitating tics. As in that case, there seems to be a line drawn among those who see the issue as a psychiatric disorder, not easily explained or treated, and those who see the matter in light of a rare condition in which a strep infection leads to an autoimmune reaction in the brain, resulting in tics or other behaviors.

“Subconscious mechanisms can take over in the absence of a biological or organic cause and propagate it,” Hart said. He thinks clusters of students coming down with the same symptoms are examples of conversion disorders, rather than the cause of a bacteria or a virus.

Hiccuping, the involuntary contraction of the diaphragm followed by a “hic” sound, is also called singultus. Hart said anyone can make a hiccup sound voluntarily.

However, in the case of more than a dozen students coming down with bouts of hiccups, “in no way are they malingering, they are not doing it on purpose,” Hart said.

Text Only | Photo Reprints
Local News

AP Video
Captain of Sunken SKorean Ferry Arrested Raw: Fire Destroys 3 N.J. Beachfront Homes Raw: Pope Presides Over Good Friday Mass Raw: Space X Launches to Space Station Superheroes Descend on Capitol Mall Man Charged in Kansas City Highway Shootings Obama Awards Navy Football Trophy Anti-semitic Leaflets Posted in Eastern Ukraine Raw: Magnitude-7.2 Earthquake Shakes Mexico City Ceremony at MIT Remembers One of Boston's Finest Raw: Students Hurt in Colo. School Bus Crash Raw: Church Tries for Record With Chalk Jesus Raw: Faithful Celebrate Good Friday Worldwide Deadly Avalanche Sweeps Slopes of Mount Everest Police Arrest Suspect in Highway Shootings Drought Concerns May Hurt Lake Tourism Vermont Goat Meat Gives Refugees Taste of Home Calif. Investigators Re-construct Fatal Bus Cras Mayor Rob Ford Launches Re-election Campaign Appellate Court Hears Okla. Gay Marriage Case
Comments Tracker