Don’t Judge: It’s Not Their Fault!

From nervous ticks to strange eating habits, do you judge people’s “bizarre” behaviors? Learn the medical reasons behind some people's mannerisms

Personal Space
Are you annoyed by close talkers? It may not be their fault. Neuroscientists at the California Institute of Technology have pinpointed the brain structure responsible for a person’s sense of personal space, and found that people’s ideas of personal space may vary. How close is too close for you?

E.R. physician Dr. Travis Stork explains how the brain ascertains levels of comfort.

Dr. Travis tests Ashley’s comfort level at public, social and personal distances.

Chronically Late
There are countless excuses for tardiness, but there are real reasons why some people can’t make it on time.

Doctor of psychology Wendy Walsh, Ph.D. explains the three reasons for unpunctuality.

Risk-takers: These people are addicted to the thrill of leaving for a destination at the last minute. They may enjoy the adrenaline rush of battling traffic.
• Passive-aggressive: This person may be mad at or resentful of the person they’re going to see.
• Organizational slackers: These people are disorganized and take on way too many commitments, leaving them overwhelmed.

Dr. Wendy reveals how you can go from being tardy to on-time!

Can You Catch OCD?
What if your child’s behavior changed overnight? Such was the case for Beth and her son, Sammy, 21.

My son Sammy was a perfectly happy, healthy, normal child,” Beth says. “Just after he turned 12, he started showing strange behaviors. [The] first thing [I noticed], he would close his eyes and put his hands out, feeling his way around as if he was blind. Every day [he exhibited] a new behavior, such as stepping over and ducking under invisible walls. It was like he was in a totally separate world.”

One day, Sammy’s peculiar behaviors became so severe, he was unable to speak. He wrote a life-changing message on a piece of paper: “Help.”

Beth took Sammy to the psychiatrist, where he was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and prescribed medication. But Beth says his condition worsened.

Feeling helpless and confused, Beth called her mother, who then suggested Sammy get tested for strep throat. Though Sammy had never suffered from a sore throat, he was ultimately diagnosed by pediatrician Dr. Catherine Nicolaides with pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorder (PANDAS), caused by group strep A, the same infection that causes strep throat.

Strep is a particularly vicious bacteria, and when the body’s antibodies fight it off, they can mistakenly attack healthy tissue such as the heart and kidneys. PANDAS results when strep antibodies attack the brain, specifically the basal ganglia, which is responsible for movement and behavior. When the antibodies interact with this area of the brain, it can cause OCD or Tourette syndrome-like tics.

“If you damage that part of the brain, you’ll see OCD properties,” pediatrician Dr. Jim Sears says.

“It’s a fairly new disorder,” Dr. Sears adds. “But what we do know is when someone gets a strep infection, and if prescribed treatment isn’t completed and you stop antibiotics [early], those antibodies still circulate and can cause [PANDAS].”

“What’s important here is to make the connection between the preceding strep infections,” Dr. Nicolaides says. “That connection wasn’t made initially [in Sammy’s situation].

“When you see the abrupt onset of symptoms, think about strep and obtaining treatment as soon as possible,” Dr. Nicolaides adds.

There are three tests for detecting strep: A rapid throat swab, a throat culture and a blood test, which is the only definitive screening for strep.

Behaviors that may indicate PANDAS:
• Obsessive-compulsive behaviors, such as repetitive motions, excess fear of germs, hair pulling and bizarre eating habits.
• Motor and verbal tics, similar to those with Tourette syndrome.

• ADHD symptoms: hyperactivity, inattention, fidgety behavior.
• Extreme separation anxiety: Child is clingy and has difficulty separating from his or her caregivers.
• Mood changes: irritability, sadness or emotional swings.
• Sleep disturbance.
• Nighttime bedwetting and/or daytime urinary frequency.
• Fine motor changes such as changes in handwriting.
• Joint pain.
• Loss of math skills and sensory sensitivities.
• Age regression: Going back to a younger developmental age.

PANDAS symptoms can only be stopped once the infection is fully treated. Doctors should perform follow-up throat cultures and check family members to make sure it is no longer present.

Treatment for PANDAS includes:
• Long-term antibiotics
• Probiotics
• Intermittent steroids
• Natural anti-inflammatory medications
• Psychiatric medications
• Intravenous immunoglobins
• Plasmapheresis

Since his diagnosis, Sammy’s OCD symptoms have cleared.

“I’m doing well,” Sammy says. “I don’t have any symptoms left, and I’m in college now.”

What Makes You Tic?
Do you judge strangers’ bizarre behaviors? For Marc, judgment is something he deals with each and every day.

Marc, 26, has been living with Tourette syndrome since the age of nine, causing him to exhibit uncontrollable sounds, twitches and words.

“Tourette syndrome causes me to make noises and say things I can’t help. I’m sorry if it bothers you, but I promise bothers me more,” Marc says.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 200,000 people in the United States suffer from Tourette syndrome (TS), a neurological disorder that can cause involuntary movements and motor and vocal tics. Boys are three to four times more likely to develop the disorder than girls, and the CDC posits that one in 100 people may suffer from some form of TS, such as a minor facial tic.

Marc says he is confronted with judgment frequently.

“I’ve been in fast food restaurants where people call me retarded,” he says.

Dr. Travis explains how Tourette’s affects the brain and that says symptoms are unique to the individual.

“It’s a neurological disorder. It creates an itch-like sensation, and the only way I can get rid of it is to tic,” Marc says. “The tic is me scratching that itch.

“It’s so hard not to scratch [that itch] because it’s like having 10 to 20 itches all in one spot,” he adds.

“[In children], signs of Tourette’s can start with facial tics like blinking or sniffing,” Dr. Sears says. “Then they can move into vocalization, grunting or shouting out phrases..”

But, Marc says he’s made progress in obtaining control of his tics, and is now an inspirational speaker on tolerance at high schools and colleges around the nation. He also describes his life with Tourette’s in his new book What Makes You Tic?

“If you’re out there and you see someone with tics,” Dr. Travis says. “Don’t’ judge them. It’s not their fault.”

• See how deep-brain stimulation can treat those with Tourette syndrome.

Why Do They Do That?
Learn the medical explanations for some people’s peculiar habits.

Nikki, 34, ate two to three boxes of cornstarch per day for 17 years, and was featured on TLC’s Freaky Eaters for her addiction.

While this seems like a strange snacking habit, there is a medical explanation behind it.

After the being featured on Freaky Eaters, Nikki was diagnosed with pica and anemia.

Pica is the persistent eating of non-nutritional substances such as corn starch, coffee grounds, clay or dirt.

Pica can develop for a number of reasons, including:
• Nutritional deficiencies such as iron or zinc that may trigger specific cravings.
• Dieting: People who diet may attempt to consume nonfood items to quell hunger.
• Malnutrition, especially in underdeveloped countries, where people will eat soil or clay.
• Parental neglect, lack of supervision or food deprivation, often seen among children living in poverty.
• Mental conditions such as OCD or schizophrenia.

Nikki says that since being diagnosed, her iron deficiency is being treated and she no longer eats corn starch.

“I haven’t eaten [cornstarch] in more than three months,” Nikki says. “Though it’s been a struggle.”

 If you or someone you know is struggling with pica, be sure to see your doctor to determine if you’re mineral deficient or if it’s a psychologically-related.

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