Tourette Syndrome (TS, aka Tourette’s) is a common neuropsychiatric disorder that usually onsets in childhood. TS is characterized by at least one vocal (phonic) tic and multiple motor tics. These tics can come and go over the course of a person’s life, can be suppressed temporarily, and can be preceded by an unwanted urge or sensation in the affected muscle. Common tics include blinking, coughing, throat clearing, sniffing and facial movements.
When many people think of a Tourette’s patient, they think of someone who swears or uses inappropriate language at inopportune moments (coprolalia), with little-to-no control over their vocalisms. However, this is rare, and most people with Tourette’s go undiagnosed throughout their lives due to the fact that their tics aren’t severe.
The exact cause of TS is unknown, but it is thought that there is a combination of genetic and environmental triggers. The majority of cases of TS are inherited, and there does seem to be a gene polymorphism that causes TS, but it is not known which gene and the exact mode of inheritance is not known yet. Refined sugar, caffeine and gluten may exacerbate tics. Tourette’s syndrome may be related to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Autism spectrum disorders, depression and anxiety are also comorbid with TS.
According to the CDC, 1 out of every 360 children (0.3%) aged 6 – 17 suffer from TS, and children aged 12 – 17 are twice as likely to suffer from TS than children aged 4 – 11. 37% of TS sufferers have moderate to severe Tourette’s. Males are three to five times more likely than females to have TS, although females may be more likely to display tics. It is thought that 1 out of 162 (0.6%) children have TS, meaning that up to half of sufferers are undiagnosed.
Treatment methods for TS include psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), planned activities and neuro-linguistic programming (NLP). Medications are usually used in more severe cases of TS, and can include adrenergic agonists such as clonidine (Catapres, Nexiclon, Kapvay), antipsychotic medications that dampen dopamine production such as fluphenazine, haloperidol (Haldol) and pimozide (Orap), and tetrabenazine (Xenazine, Nitoman). TS usually improves as the sufferer ages due to management techniques, but may still remain severe in some.