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Teen girls' medical mystery baffles doctors

Jan. 18 update: The day after TODAY reported on the baffling case of 12 teenage girls at one school who mysteriously fell ill with Tourette's-like symptoms of tics and verbal outbursts, a doctor who is treating some of the girls has come forward to offer an explanation. Dr. Laszlo Mechtler, a neurologist in Amherst, N.Y., says the diagnosis is "conversion disorder," or mass hysteria.

"It's happened before, all around the world, in different parts of the world. It's a rare phenomena. Physicians are intrigued by it," Mechtler told TODAY. "The bottom line is these teenagers will get better."

Tuesday on the show, psychologist and TODAY contributor Dr. Gail Saltz noted that just because the girls' symptoms are psychological in origin doesn't make them any less real or painful.

“That’s not faking it. They’re real symptoms,” Saltz continued. “They need a psychiatric or psychological treatment. Treatment does work.’’

Officials from the LeRoy Junior-Senior High School in upstate New York, where all the girls attended when their symptoms began, have released environmental reports, conducted by an outside agency, showing no substances in any of the school buildings that could cause health problems.

Related: Click here to read the school district's statement and full environmental reports

But some of the girls' parents say they're not satisfied with the explanations so far.

"Obviously we are all not just accepting that this is a stress thing," Jim Dupont, father of one of the affected girls, told TODAY. "It's heart wrenching, you fear your daughter's not going to have a normal life."

Read the original story, below.

High school cheerleader and art student Thera Sanchez  took a quick nap one day last October, and when she woke up, the life she had known was gone.

In its place, she was plagued by uncontrollable body movements, tics and verbal outbursts, similar to Tourette’s syndrome. It turned out Sanchez was not alone, as she is one of 12 girls from LeRoy Junior-Senior High School in upstate New York who has been exhibiting symptoms of a mysterious condition that has baffled doctors.

“I’m very angry,’’ Sanchez told TODAY’s Ann Curry during an interview Tuesday. “I’m very frustrated. No one’s giving me answers.’’

Sanchez appeared on TODAY alongside her mother, Melisa Phillips, as well as another one of the girls experiencing the symptoms, Katie Krautwurst, and her mother, Elizabeth Miller.

The mothers of the two girls are fighting for answers after state health officials determined that nothing at the high school itself could have triggered the mass illness. Each girl has been examined by a private doctor and given a diagnosis. After a three-and-a-half month investigation, health officials ruled out carbon monoxide, illegal drugs and other factors as potential causes.  Officials say no one at the school is in any danger.

Related: Click here to read the school district's statement and full environmental reports

“We have conclusively ruled out any form of infection or communicable disease and there’s no evidence of any environmental factor,’’ Dr. Gregory Young of the New York Department of Health told NBC News.

“Where’s the proof?’’ Phillips asked on TODAY. “Where’s the data? Where’s the testing? When has this been done? Nothing’s been collectively done for our daughters. Everything has been done individually. Testing they say that all the girls have had, they have not had. The facts that they’re stating just aren’t true.’’

The girls did not say what diagnosis they have been given, only that doctors have told them the onset of their symptoms was stress-related.

Sanchez, a 17-year-old senior and former cheerleader, displayed uncontrollable movements and verbal tics during the interview, while the symptoms of Krautwurst, a high school junior, were not as pronounced.  

“Mine’s more advanced, I think, because I’ve had it longer, but it’s definitely gotten better,’’ said Krautwurst.  Meanwhile, Sanchez said her own condition is getting worse.

On Oct. 7, Sanchez took a power nap, and when she woke up, she started stuttering uncontrollably and has been exhibiting her symptoms ever since, according to her mother. Since then, she has quit cheerleading and regularly attending her beloved art classes.

“Mostly that it’s stress-induced,’’ Sanchez said about what doctors told her. “I was fine. I was perfectly fine. There was nothing going on, and then I just woke up, and that’s when the stuttering started.”

“I can’t explain it,’’ Krautwurst said. “They told us it was traumatic, but I really don’t think any of us had that traumatic of a life before.’’

Psychologist and TODAY contributor Gail Saltz said she could not make any specific diagnosis having just met the girls, but she stressed that just because the cause may be psychological doesn’t mean the symptoms – or the pain the girls are experiencing – is fake.

“When you’ve ruled everything out and they’re saying to you it’s stress-related, then you might call it something called ‘conversion disorder’ or ‘psychosomatic illness,’ which means that symptoms have been converted from something psychological into something physical,’’ Saltz said. “It usually is predated by stress.”

“That’s not faking it. They’re real symptoms,” Saltz continued. “They need a psychiatric or psychological treatment. Treatment does work.’’

For Sanchez, all she wants is to know what is happening to her and why.

“I want an answer,’’ she said. “A straight answer.’’

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