Adult head-banging and stereotypic movement disorders

Authors

  • Mario F. Mendez MD, Phd,

    Corresponding author
    1. Departments of Neurology and Psychiatry, University of California at Los Angeles and West Los Angeles VA Medical Center, California, U.S.A.
    • The Neurobehavior Unit (691/116AF), West Los Angeles VA Medical Center, 11301 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90073, U.S.A.
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  • Adrian Mirea MD

    1. Departments of Neurology and Psychiatry, University of California at Los Angeles and West Los Angeles VA Medical Center, California, U.S.A.
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Abstract

Stereotypic movement disorders (SMD) such as head-banging, which are common among children with mental retardation or pervasive developmental disorders, may also occur in intellectually normal adults. We report a 27-year history of daily head-banging with self-injury in a 49-year-old man with normal cognition. The patient had no personal or family history of Tourette's syndrome, tic disorder, obsessivecompulsive disorder (OCD), or mental retardation. The frequency of his stereotypical head-banging increased with anxiety, loud noises with startle, and boredom. He reported a sense of pleasure from his head-banging, and the frequency of this behavior decreased when he was treated with the opioid antagonist naltrexone. Although not diagnostic, the selfstimulatory or pleasurable component of head-banging, bodyrocking, thumb-sucking, and other SMD may help distinguish them from tics, Tourette's syndrome, OCD, and deliberate selfharming behavior. This report reviews the disorders associated with SMD and discusses the potential mechanisms for these behaviors. The treatment of SMD includes drugs that work through opioid, serotonergic, or dopaminergic systems.

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