Tourette Syndrome

What is Tourette Syndrome?

Tourette syndrome is a condition where the person has tics in the form of repetitive movements or sounds that are uncontrollable.  This can include eye blinking, offensive words, or unusual sounds.  Symptoms usually first appear between the ages of 2 and 15. Males are more likely to develop Tourette syndrome than females.

There is no cure for Tourette syndrome but there are treatments. Sometimes treatment is not necessary.  Tics usually decrease in frequency or are more controllable as the child moves into adulthood.

What are the Symptoms of Tourette Syndrome?

The main sign of Tourette syndrome is tics like sudden movements or sounds. They can be very severe or quite mild. There are simple ticks, which are brief and involve only a small number of muscle groups and there are complex tics that are more distinct and involve several muscle groups.

Tics can include movements or sounds. Simple tics can include head jerking, eye blinking, shrugging the shoulders, mouth movements, and others.  Complex tics can include repeating movements, smelling or touching objects, following a pattern when stepping, hopping, obscene gestures, and more.

Simple vocal tics are things like barking or grunting while complex vocal tics can be the use of vulgar swear word or repetition of your own words or other people’s.

Tics can get worse, vary in type and severity, and even occur when sleeping.

Tourette’s Syndrome Causes

Medical professionals believe that there is more than one cause of Tourette’s syndrome. It is believed that genes play a significant role in the development of Tourette’s. Someone is more likely to develop Tourette’s if a family member has it; evidence strongly suggests that the condition is inherited. However, the symptoms may manifest differently for people, even in the same family.

Tourette’s is related to problems with the brain – neurological problems and differences in a person. Research suggests that the syndrome is closely connected to certain abnormalities in the brain. These abnormalities mostly affect the basal ganglia, but can also interfere with the function of the cortex and the frontal lobes. Neurotransmitters which aid communication between these different areas of the brain may communicate ineffectively or inefficiently. Although certain aspects of the cause of Tourette’s are known, it is difficult to truly understand what lies behind a syndrome as complex as Tourette’s.

How is Tourette Syndrome Treated?

Treatment for Tourette syndrome may not be needed if tics are not severe.  If treatment is required, medications can help. Medications can block or decrease dopamine to help control the tics. Botox injections, ADHD medications, antidepressants, central adrenergic inhibitors, and anti-seizure medications have been used with some degree of success.

Therapy has also been used to treat Tourette syndrome.  Psychotherapy helps to cope with the condition as well as deal with other problems that might come with it like depression or anxiety.  Behavior therapy can help by using habit-reversal training. Battery-operated medical devices in the brain can use electrical stimulation to target the parts of the brain that control movement. This is called DBS therapy.

Tourette’s Syndrome Prevention

Because of how little understood Tourette’s syndrome is, there is no known form of prevention for the disorder. Furthermore, the symptoms of Tourette’s – most notably, tics – are relatively mild and do not usually require treatment. If symptoms are severe enough to seriously interfere with a patient’s daily life, a doctor may prescribe a form of medication to quiet the symptoms.

However, side effects may render these medications effectively unhelpful or worse than the symptoms of the condition itself.

Tourette’s syndrome is not a degenerative disorder. In fact, for many individuals, the symptoms vastly improve or even disappear completely by the time that they reach early adulthood. Tourette’s does not affect a person’s physical health or life expectancy. However, Tourette’s may co-exist with ADHD or anxiety in certain people.

While behavioral therapy will not directly prevent signs and symptoms of Tourette’s syndrome, it can greatly help those living with the condition to better accept, understand, and cope with Tourette’s – as well as prevent bouts of stress tics potentially triggered by the syndrome.

Last Reviewed:
October 11, 2016
Last Updated:
September 10, 2017
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