Distinguishing functional from primary tics: a study of expert video assessments

Congratulations to Dr. Irene Malaty on the publication of “Distinguishing functional from primary tics: a study of expert video assessments,” which was published in the May issue of The Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry.


Background Reliably applied criteria to differentiate functional from primary tics are lacking. In the absence of biological markers, the development of new diagnostic criteria to assist clinicians is predicated on expert judgement and consensus. This study examines the level of diagnostic agreement of experts in tic disorders using video footage and clinical descriptions. Methods Using a two-part survey, eight experts in the diagnosis and management of tics were first asked to study 24 case videos of adults with primary tics, functional tics or both and to select a corresponding diagnosis. In the second part of the survey, additional clinical information was provided, and the diagnosis was then reconsidered. Inter-rater agreement was measured using Fleiss’ kappa. In both study parts, the factors which influenced diagnostic decision-making and overall diagnostic confidence were reviewed. Results Based on phenomenology alone, the diagnostic agreement among the expert raters was only fair for the pooled diagnoses (κ=0.21) as well as specifically for functional (κ=0.26) and primary tics (κ=0.24). Additional clinical information increased overall diagnostic agreement to moderate (κ=0.51) for both functional (κ=0.6) and primary tics (κ=0.57). The main factors informing diagnosis were tic semiology, age at tic onset, presence of premonitory urges, tic suppressibility, the temporal latency between tic onset and peak severity, precipitants and tic triggers and changes in the overall phenotypic presentation. Conclusions This study confirmed that in the absence of clinical information, the diagnostic distinction between primary and functional tics is often difficult, even for expert clinicians.