Tourette syndrome is a disorder in the nervous system involving repetitive movements or uncontrolled sounds called tics.
These signs of Tourette syndrome typically show themselves between ages 2 and 15, with males being three to four times more likely than females to have Tourette syndrome. The exact cause of Tourette syndrome is unkown. However, it is believed the disorder is caused by genetic and environmental factors, with dopamine and serotonin in the brain playing a role. While there is no known cure, there are treatment options available.
The main symptom of Tourette syndrome is a tic. The first type of tic usually seen is a motor tic followed by a vocal tic later on. Tics tend to be worse during times of excitement or stress and improve when a child is calm or focused. Even though tics may appear, disappear and then reappear, the conditions are still considered chronic. Typically tics decrease in adolescence and early adulthood, however, many individuals still experience tics in adulthood.
There are four types of tics: vocal, motor, simple and complex.
- Vocal tics are sounds made with the individual’s voice. They can include clearing the throat, humming or yelling out words or phrases.
- Motor tics are body movements. They can include shrugging, jerking or blinking.
- Simple tics involve a limited number of muscle groups. They can include eye darting or blinking, nose twitching, head jerking, throat clearing or barking, to name a few.
- Complex tics involve several muscle groups and can be in a coordinated pattern. They can include bending or twisting, hopping, stepping in a certain pattern, using vulgar words or repeating words or phrases and more.
While there is no cure for Tourette syndrome, there are treatments to help manage tics. The first of these is medication, which can be used to help reduce severe tics. While it does not completely eliminate the tics, it does help those with severe tics in their everyday lives.
The second option is therapy. Similar to medication, the use of therapy helps to reduce the severity of tics, not eliminate them. The third is a combination of psychiatric management and medication. Many Tourette syndrome patients experience psychiatric symptoms such as OCD and anxiety, and often benefit from this combination. Talk to a doctor to determine which treatment options are best for your child.
If you suspect your child having symptoms related to Tourette syndrome, take him/her to a doctor. While not all tics are related to Tourette syndrome, it is best to air on the side of caution.
Dr. Hannah Klein is board certified in adult neurology and board eligible in child neurology. Read more about Dr. Klein here.