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Upstate girls suffer unique condition

LEROY, N.Y. -- 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 medical 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 of 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.

"Most of them are improving," Mechtler 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.

It isn't clear what triggered symptoms in the LeRoy students. -- AP

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