by Kimberly Allen R.N.
Tourette Syndrome (TS) is a neurological condition in which there’s a malfunction in the process the nerves use to communicate. The nerves in the brain use a system of chemicals called neurotransmitters to send signals. These chemicals have a very specific balance and when something disrupts that balance problems develop. Tourette syndrome is classified as a “tic disorder”. Tourette syndrome can develop in anyone of any race, though boy’s are 3 to 4 times more likely to develop Tourette’s than girls. Most estimates are that at least 200,000 Americans have a severe form of Tourette syndrome, however, they also estimate that approximately 1 in 100 have milder forms of Tourette’s. Tourette Syndrome almost always manifests in childhood between 7 to 10 years of age and though it can be a chronic lifelong condition most will demonstrate their most severe symptoms in their early teens.
The exact cause of Tourette syndrome is unknown, some say it’s an inherited genetic condition while others say it’s a combination of genetics and environment. While experts don’t know the exact cause they do know that it’s not contagious. You can’t get Tourette syndrome from a person that has it. Tourette’s also has nothing to do with intelligence or mental retardation, many people with Tourette syndrome are actually very smart. However, Tourette syndrome has been associated with other disorders including ADHD, and OCD as well as learning disabilities. Other problems that have been seen in Tourette syndrome involve anxiety disorders and depression which usually develop in teen’s and young adults.
The hallmark of Tourette syndrome is uncontrollable repetative movements called motor “tics”. Motor tics can be anything from repatative blinking to jerking your head or stamping your foot. Some people also have vocal tics. The most well known is when a person suddenly blurts out swear words however, this is actuall one of the lesser common verbal tics. Other verbal tics you might notice that are more common are repeatedly clearing your throat or making a “clicking” noise. Others will either repeat words that someone else speaks or their own words.
Tics are classified as simple tics or complex tics. Simple tics are sudden, repetativve and have a brief duration using only a small number of muscle groups. Complex tics on the other hand are a coordinated pattern of movements that are distinct and involve many muscle groups. Tics vary in each individual. They come and go without any particular pattern and they also vary in severity as well as location and frequency. In most cases tics usually start in the head and neck areas then progress to other area like the torso and extremities. Usually motor tics develop before vocal tics just as simple tics usually develop before complex tics. Most people with Tourette syndrome will experience their most severe tics in early to mid teens then they will notice an improvement as they enter their late teens and early adulthood. However, there is a small percent of people that have a form of Tourette syndrome that is progressive lasting into adulthood.
There is no cure for Tourette syndrome nor any medications that can stop or control the tics associated with Tourette’s. However, some Drs have used medications to treat associated conditions like ADHD or OCD and found they have also reduced the tics. Tourette syndrome is not well known or understood by many people. frequently people with Tourette syndrome are the object of stares and whispers leaving them feeling embarrassed and frustrated. Frequently people with Tourette syndrome have to explain why they are moving or making sounds. Since the most severe tics usually occur in the early teen years when a child is also starting puberty many Drs recommend counselling to help the teen cope with their feelings and the social stigma that is often associated with Tourette syndrome. Many people with Tourette syndrome report that being active in sports or exercise reduces their symptoms.
It’s important to remember that each person with Tourette syndrome will experience Tourette’s differently. They will have different social, emotional and physical challenges to cope with. The best and most effective way to meet those challenges is to research and adk questions, become an active participant in your care. There are also numerous support groups available for people with Tourette syndrome. Support groups can be beneficial in many ways, not only can the noffer emotional support but information on the disorder as well as any new research or treatments available.
Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to HealthAndFitnessTalk.com, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.