Tourette’s syndrome is an inherited and genetic neurological disorder that causes abnormal electrical and neurotransmitter activity to occur in the brain, resulting in what are known as tics. Tics are involuntary movements, sounds, and actions performed by someone with Tourette’s. Tics are classified as either simple or complex.
Those with Tourette’s think of a tic as an intense urge to perform an action or muscular movement, much like a sneeze. The most common tics are simple facial tics such as, rapid eye blinking, shifting the eyes around, face grimacing, jerking the head, biting on the lips, or other involuntary muscular movements. This very short video shows some children exhibiting the tics associated with Tourette’s.
Tics also occur in auditory forms. These tics are generally clearing the throat, grunting noises, and manipulation of the throat muscles to induce a noise. About 10% of those with Tourette’s have an uncontrollable urge to shout obscenities. This is known as coprolalia and is often used for humor purposes in movies that portray Tourette’s as a cursing disorder.
The most extreme cases of the disorder have the child bouncing around, jumping for no reason, moving chairs, speaking a repetitive sentence, or completing a series of acts that must be done in special OCD-like sequence. These are known as complex tics. Extreme cases such as these are very rare and are found in less than 3% of cases.
Tourette’s usually manifests itself in children around the ages of 7-10 years-old. The disorder is proven to be linked genetically, and is always inherited. It is often found in multiple members of the same family, although some family members may never show any sign of the disorder. Some scientists believe there is a recessive gene.
Tourette’s and genetics are closely related, but there has not been an official gene or carrier gene that has been found. For those with Tourette’s syndrome, the symptoms or tics usually worsen through adolescence, however, once adulthood is reached, many of the tics seem to disappear or become less extreme. This continues throughout adulthood. There is no scientific research that currently explains why adults with Tourette’s suffer less symptoms.
Treatments for a mild case of Tourette’s syndrome may not require medication, and only therapy to deal with emotional and self-esteem issues. Most children and adults with Tourette’s however take medication that helps control some of the tics, depending on the pharmacological treatment.
Tics are usually treated with neuroleptic drugs, with the most widely-used being Haldol and Risperidol. Anti-depressants that affect the serotogenic receptors (SSRIs) in the brain are often used as an adjunct therapy.
Lesser used drugs are tranquilizers such as Valium, Klonopin, Ativan, and Xanax. These drugs calm the nervous system down dramatically reducing tics, however, these medications have been proven to be addictive. Other medications that may be used are seizure medications or anti-convulsants.
The prognosis for those with Tourette’s syndrome is positive as medication has greatly eliminated the extremity of tics, usually resulting in a normal and active life. Tourette’s is not a life-threatening condition, nor is lifespan affected. Those with Tourette’s often have symptoms of ADD and OCD. Tourette’s sometimes contains a wide spectrum of disorders put under the general term of Tourette’s. For more information, visit the Tourette’s Syndrome Association.