Background Functional neurological symptom disorders are frequently the basis for acute neurological consultation. In children, they are often precipitated by high-frequency everyday stressors. The extent to which a severe traumatic experience may also precipitate functional neurological abnormalities is unknown.
Methods For the 2-week period after the Boston Marathon bombings, we prospectively collected data on patients whose presentation suggested a functional neurological symptom disorder. We assessed clinical and demographic variables, duration of symptoms, extent of educational impact, and degree of connection to the Marathon bombing. We contacted all patients at 6 months after presentation to determine the outcome and accuracy of the diagnosis.
Results In a parallel study, we reported a baseline of 2.6 functional neurological presentations per week in our emergency room. In the week after the Marathon bombings, this frequency tripled. Ninety-one percent of presentations were delayed by 1 week, with onset around the first school day after a city-wide lockdown. Seventy-three percent had a history of a prior psychiatric diagnosis. At the 6 months follow-up, no functional neurological symptom disorder diagnoses were overturned and no new organic diagnosis was made.
Conclusions Pediatric functional neurological symptom disorder may be precipitated by both casual and high-intensity stressors. The 3.4-fold increase in incidence after the Boston Marathon bombings and city-wide lockdown demonstrates the marked effect that a community-wide tragedy can have on the mental health of children. Care providers must be aware of functional neurological symptom disorders after stressful community events in vulnerable patient populations, particularly those with prior psychiatric diagnoses.
- conversion disorder
- functional neurological disorder
- somatoform disorder
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Clinical Neurology
- Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
- Developmental Neuroscience