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Tourette Syndrome

What is Tourette syndrome ?

Tourette is a persistent tic disorder which is characterized by unusual and uncontrollable sounds and movements such as squeaking and eye blinking. Those diagnosed with the syndrome have had the tics for at least over a year, with episodes lasting weeks, and sometimes, months. Usually, these tic attacks mess up normal daily functioning.

The disorder was named after Georges Albest Edouard Brutus Gilles de la Tourette, who first described the disorder in 1885. Despite the absence of treatment for Tourette, the disorder has been found to slowly disappear in adolescence and adulthood. Treatment is target towards suppressing the tic symptoms which are capable of interfering with the patient’s daily activities.

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Prevalence of Tourette

The disorder is estimated to occur in 1 to 10 out of 1,000 children. It is relatively common in all ethnic backgrounds and populations across the globe. Statistics have shown that more men are affected by the condition than women. Also, it has been noted to be at its peak during adolescent stage and slowly improves in adulthood. Research also revealed that majority of the affected individuals are 6 to 18 years old.  It is also quite common among people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or ADHD, autistic disorder and Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

Some people are at more risk of developing the disorder than others. This could be because they have the risk factors for the disorder which include:

  • Male
  • Premature birth
  • Strep infection
  • A family member or relative suffering from Tourette and other OCD

Development of Tourette

Medical experts are puzzled over the cause of the disorder. However, they believe that the syndrome occurs due to a combination of several environmental factors and genetics, pointing to a number of anomalies in some parts of the brain such as the basal ganglia. The basal ganglia, which lies on the base of the brain, plays a very important role in learning, emotion and involuntary movements. Still, studies are continuously being done to establish the connection between tics and childhood infection.

Some other possible reasons why tics occur are the following:

  • Medications
  • Illegal drugs
  • Hereditary disorders
  • Traumatic head injury
  • Cerebral infections
  • Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

The tics in Tourette have been found to get worse with extreme tiredness, stress, anxiety, excitement and streptococcus infection.

Signs and symptoms of Tourette syndrome

Tics are the most prominent manifestation of the disorder. Some have mild symptoms while others suffer from severe, incapacitating symptoms. Tics can likewise be simple or complex, physical or phonic. Simple tics are characterized by sudden and brief repetitive movements and single sound utterances, while complex tics are typified by more composite movements and utterances. On the other hand, physical tics involve motor movements while phonic tics comprise vocal utterances. Sufferers also find that some unpleasant symptoms occur prior to the manifestations of tics. These symptoms include:

  • Burning sensation in the eyes
  • Muscle tension
  • Dry throat
  • Itchy joints and limbs

It would be best to visit the doctor for medical advice upon experiencing tic symptoms to rule out other kinds of neurologic conditions. The disorder carries a substantial amount of risk to the social, behavioral and learning aspects of the individual if it goes untreated. Among the complications that may occur include:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depression
  • Learning disabilities
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Sleep disorders
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

Diagnosis of Tourette

Tourette diagnosis involves a series of diagnostic tests and evaluation of the patient’s medical history and symptoms. The absence of definitive tests for the disorder as well as the similarities of its symptoms to other health problems makes diagnosis quite tricky. The tests done to confirm the condition may include:

  • Vision test
  • Blood test
  • Skin prick test
  • Imaging test

The doctor will then compare the results of the tests and medical evaluation to the diagnostic criteria set by the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) for Tourette.

Tourette syndrome patients could live normal lives because their intelligence is not affected despite the fact that the disorder is for life. The accompanying symptoms improve with age, but sufferers may have to struggle with depression, antisocial behaviors and panic attacks throughout adulthood.

Tourette syndrome treatment

Those with mild symptoms may not need any medication. However, those who experience incapacitating symptoms will greatly benefit from the available treatment options such as:

  • Medication

Some of the medications used in treating Tourette are neuroleptics, muscle relaxants and anti-hypertensives. Still, patients should beware of the possible side effects.

  • Therapies

Therapies which help in managing the associated symptoms may involve psychotherapy, behavioral therapy, hypnosis and acupuncture.

  • Surgery

This is often recommended for adults who have severe symptoms and had been unresponsive to medication and therapies. The most common surgical interventions in treating the disorder are limbic leucotomy and DBS or deep brain stimulation.

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