What is Tourette’s Syndrome?
Tourette’s Syndrome (TS) is a neurological disorder (affecting the brain and nervous system) where a person displays tics – involuntary sounds or movements. TS is often stereotyped as a condition that makes people swear and shout, however this only affects about 10% of people with TS.
- It is estimated that 1 in 100 people have TS.
- TS is more commonly diagnosed in boys.
- Over 85% of people with TS may also be diagnosed with Deficit Hyperactivity
- Disorder (ADHD), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and anxiety disorders.
What causes it?
There is no known single cause for TS. TS is genetic – it often runs in families. However, no single gene has been found.
Brain scans have also suggested that there are certain areas of the brain that are different in people who have TS – for example, the basal ganglia and fronto-temporal areas – which are involved in movement control and planning.
Some research suggests that there may be environmental factors involved in TS. For example, birth related problems.
Childhood infections caused by streptococcal bacteria (which usually cause a sore throat) have also been linked to the symptoms of TS.
What are the symptoms?
People with TS tend to have motor and vocal tics, which can be simple or complex. Examples of simple tics include: blinking, eye rolling, shoulder shrugging, limb/head jerking, whistling, coughing, sniffing, grunting and tongue clicking. Complex tics include: jumping, twirling, obscene gestures/words/phrases, uttering words/phrases out of context.
Many people with TS experience a physical sensation, or urge, right before they tic. This urge can increase when people try not to tic, which makes self-control of tics very difficult.
There is evidence that tics can increase in frequency and intensity during times of stress, anxiety and excitement.
How is it diagnosed?
Getting diagnosed usually begins with a GP referral to a specialist – which includes neurologists, psychiatrists and paediatricians. The specialists will rule out other conditions that can cause tic-like behaviours, such as ASD and dystonia.
There will then be an assessment to confirm whether the individual has TS. Diagnosis can usually be made if:
– symptoms have been present for more than a year
– there are several motor tics and at least one vocal tic
– tics have been occurring nearly every day
– tics started before the age of 18
How is it treated?
There is no cure for TS; however, there is treatment that may help individuals manage their condition.
Education – knowing about TS and understanding what it means for that person can help. This can also be useful for their families and teachers/colleagues, to help them understand that tics are not put on , and that certain situations may increase the frequency of tics.
Medication can be used to help reduce the frequency/intensity of tics.
Behavioural therapy can help individuals learn ways to alter their behaviours, and can also help to change the way they think about situations that can increase tics.
Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) – this involves electrodes stimulating certain areas of the brain, with the aim of reducing the symptoms.
Want to know more?
NHS – https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/tourettes-syndrome/
Tourette’s Action – https://www.tourettes-action.org.uk/69-managing-ts.html
Tourette Scotland – http://www.tourettescotland.org/