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Tourette syndrome is a nervous system disorder characterized by uncontrolled movements and sounds called tics. It starts in childhood, typically around the age of two, and may get worse by the time the child is 12 years old. The involuntary twitching and sounds may decrease as the child grows older, but may continue into adulthood in ten percent of patients.

What Causes Tourette Syndrome?

Although the cause of Tourette syndrome is unknown, it tends to run in families. However, there are other factors that may increase one's risk such as:

  • Being born to a mother who had severe nausea and vomiting or severe stress during pregnancy
  • Having a mother who had too much coffee, alcohol or cigarettes during pregnancy
  • Inadequate blood supply or oxygen during birth
  • Low birth weight
  • Brain injury

Symptoms

Children with Tourette's may have different tic patterns. In some children, tics may not be obvious or they may occur as bursts of movements or sounds that can last for seconds/minutes.

Tics can take the form of:

  • Eye twitches
  • Neck jerking
  • Coughing
  • Throat-clearing
  • A mixture of movement and sound

Some people who have Tourette's feel an increased urge in some part of the body which can only be relieved by doing the tic. However, not everyone is aware of the urges. Tics may come and go and may vary in severity and quality. Tics may be simple, such as eye blinking, which involves only a few muscles, or complex, such as facial grimacing with head twisting and shoulder shrug.

Vocal tics may consist of simple grunting or coughing, but complex tics may involve involuntary swearing.

Tics may worsen with anxiety or excitement and may be better when doing calm, focused activities. Physical stimuli such as tight collars, sounds or other stimuli may trigger a tic. Although most symptoms of Tourette's are involuntary, some patients can suppress, mask, or manage their tics. However, some people report a buildup of tension when suppressing tics.

People with Tourette's syndrome can have a healthy life with a normal life span. However, they may have an increased risk of suffering from anxiety, depression, sleep disorders, as well as behavioral, learning, and social challenges related to self-image.

Diagnosis

Tourette syndrome may be diagnosed based on medical history and apparent signs and symptoms. There are no clinical tests to help diagnose Tourette's, but some tests may be done to rule out other health problems, including behavioral and learning problems such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

Treatment

There is no cure for Tourette disorder. The goal of treatment is to help control tics that may interfere with daily functioning. However, treatment may be unnecessary if symptoms are mild.

No medication is effective in controlling Tourette syndrome and one must consider the possible side effects they may bring. However, certain medications may be used to reduce symptoms of related conditions such as ADHD or OCD.

Therapies that may be used to cope with Tourette's include psychotherapy, behavior therapy and deep brain stimulation.

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