COVID-19 vaccine may precipitate the development of functional neurological disorder

Videos of people experiencing severe neurological symptoms, including convulsions and difficulty walking, purportedly after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine, have surfaced on Facebook, YouTube and other social media channels. The millions of people watching these videos might conclude that the vaccine is either quite dangerous to produce such symptoms or that the people in the videos are faking their symptoms. Both conclusions are incorrect, according to neurologist and psychiatrist David Perez, MD, MMSc, director of the Functional Neurological Disorders Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH).

In a JAMA Neurology Viewpoint, the authors explain that the COVID-19 vaccine may precipitate the development of functional neurological disorder (FND), a neuropsychiatric disorder with symptoms such as limb weakness, gait problems, jerky movements, tremor and facial spasms.

The spread of these videos could fuel vaccine hesitancy by giving an overly simplistic impression of potential links between the vaccine and major neurological symptoms. Instead, these are symptoms of a real, brain-based disorder that sits at the intersection of neurology and psychiatry."

David Perez, Senior Author

FND is a disruption in the brain's normal mechanisms for controlling the body and can be triggered by physical or emotional events, including head injury, a medical or surgical procedure, and vaccinations. "Some people with FND have a heightened awareness of their body and increased state of arousal and threat, which may hijack normal neural networks controlling voluntary movements," says Perez. "FND teaches us quite a bit about the complexities of the human brain."

An individual's awareness of motor control may also be impaired with FND, adds first author David Dongkyung Kim, MD, clinical fellow in Behavioral Neurology-Neuropsychiatry at MGH: "The body is moving, but the individual doesn't experience a sense of agency over their movements, such as tremors or movements of the trunk."

Some, but not all, individuals vulnerable to developing FND may have experienced adverse life events or have chronic pain or a range of other medical or psychiatric conditions. "The biopsychosocial model involving an interplay of risk factors, triggering events, and perpetuating factors is how we currently understand FND," says Kim. FND can, however, be treated with education, physical rehabilitation and psychotherapy.

Neurologists and other health care professionals have an obligation to explain FND to the public, say the authors. "Helping people understand FND will bring this disorder into mainstream medical conversations, and transparently addressing concerns will better allow people to make informed decisions for themselves on receiving the COVID-19 vaccine," says Perez.

Journal reference:

Kim, D.D., et al. (2021) Helping the Public Understand Adverse Events Associated With COVID-19 Vaccinations. Lessons Learned From Functional Neurological Disorder. JAMA Neurology.


  1. Jennifer Baker Jennifer Baker United States says:

    I have ibm muscle disease. After first vaccination of modern , I have gone from cane assisted walking to walker. Marked muscle weakness in both lower legs. Fatigue. and ankle swelling. Not taking second shot!

  2. MY
    M Y M Y United States says:

    Side effects of moderna: I had hives (histamine reaction) on my stomach and arm, facial swelling (eye and right side of face - same as the shot), and jaw twitching. It has not gone away in two months.

  3. Habtamu Gurmu Habtamu Gurmu United States says:

    It seems this article is baseless. Those videos on TikTok and Facebook are clearly fake because I am one those people who made them. If a doctor can believe those videos as real, I would suggest him to see a psychiatrist. This is a sign of Delusion

    • J G J G United Kingdom says:

      I don't see how your actions are helpful to those who experience the real symptoms of FND. It is hard enouhmfor usmto prove our symptoms are not fakes. There are those, including yourself it seems, who try to fake this for their own benefit, for those of us diagnosed with FND by a neurologist this is a seriously debilitating,condition worthy of more research, and respect from the medical profession. Your actions are harmful.

The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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