The Tourette's syndrome is a neurological disorder that causes people to have sudden movements or sounds, called tics, that they cannot control.
For example, a person with Tourette's syndrome may blink, cough, clear, or make strange facial movements over and over again. Some affected can pronounce obscene words, make derogatory comments (coprolalia) or inappropriate comments that they have no intention of saying, but it occurs in a minority of cases.
This disorder usually begins during childhood (usually before age 21), and lasts a lifetime. Between 0.4% and 3.8% of children 5 to 18 years old may suffer from Tourette syndrome. A serious Tourette in adulthood is a rarity, and this syndrome is not degenerative and does not affect the life expectancy or intelligence of the sufferer.
- 1 The causes of Tourette syndrome
- 2 Main symptoms
- 3 Treatment of Tourette's syndrome
The causes of Tourette syndrome
Tourette's syndrome has been linked to different parts of the brain, such as the area of the basal ganglia, which helps control body movements. But in reality doctors don't know exactly what causes this disorder, there is probably more than one cause, although it seems that it could have a genetic basis.
People who have relatives with Tourette syndrome are more likely to suffer from this problem. Although affected people from the same family may have different symptoms.
The main symptom of this disorder is tics. In some cases, the tics can be so mild that they are barely noticeable. Others occur often and are much more obvious. Stress, intense emotions, being sick or tired can make symptoms worse. The most serious can be quite embarrassing and affect the social or work life of the affected.
There are two types of tics, engines and vowels:
Motor tics involve movement such as:
- Shake your arms or head
- Blink excessively
- Make silly faces
- Mouth spasms
Vocal tics involve various types of sounds:
- Bark or howl
- Clear your throat
- Repeat what someone says
The tics are also classified in simple and complex.
Engines: blink, shake your head, shrug your shoulders, make funny faces, move your nose, etc.
Vowels: clear your throat, make noises such as barking, squeaking, grunting, swallowing, smelling, tongue clicking, etc.
Engines: jump, touch other people or things, make repetitive movements with the torso or limbs, perform actions self-injurious including hitting or biting.
Vowels: utter words or phrases, coprolalia (involuntary expression of swear words or obscenities), echoalia (repetition of a sound, word or phrase just heard) or palilalia (repeat the words themselves).
In reality, the variety and complexity of the tics is huge and depends on each individual.
Tourette syndrome treatment
When tics are mild they do not need to be treated. However, if they become a problem, the doctor may prescribe specific medications to help control tics, such as dopamine regulators, anxiolytics and others.
Together with the medicines, it is advised to attend psychological therapy. A therapist can help you learn how to deal with the social problems that the tics may be generating.
Often the hardest part of living with Tourette's syndrome is dealing with the embarrassment or frustration of having tics that cannot be controlled. While you are receiving help from your doctor, you can do some other things to feel better:
Both the family and friends or a support group can help cope with and even overcome the challenges of having uncontrollable tics typical of Tourette's syndrome.
Do sports, paint, play a musical instrument, etc. These activities keep the mind occupied and help minimize symptoms.
Read a book, listen to music, meditate or do yoga. All these relaxing activities help fight the stress generated by tics.
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Kushner HI A cursed brain?… The stories of Tourette's syndrome, Harvard University Press, Cambridge: MA; 1999.
Petter T, et al. Clinical characteristics that distinguish patients with Tourette syndrome and obsessive-compulsive disorder from patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder without tics. Clin Psychiatry. 1998; 59: 59